Staff essay: Are chromebooks for everyone a necessity?

Chromebooks+distributed+from+PPS+to+students+at+Lincoln+Highschool.+Many+of+these+school+issued+chromebooks+sit+unused+at+the+bottoms+of+lockers

Tabitha Lee

Chromebooks distributed from PPS to students at Lincoln Highschool. Many of these school issued chromebooks sit unused at the bottoms of lockers

Tabitha Lee

Because of a district wide bond, all students in the Portland Public School (PPS) district were given Chromebooks to use until graduation. The Chromebooks were handed out quickly over the course of a week, and students were told they were required to use them because they had certain testing software that would be utilized in classrooms. When I was given a Chromebook, I couldn’t wait to start slapping stickers on it to make it my own. 

My Chromebook now lives in my locker with two others belonging to my friends. It sits, unused, next to an old sweater and a textbook. When you consider the possibility that we might have to go back to Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) due to another COVID-19 wave, it makes sense for everyone to receive a Chromebook. However, I wish there had been a more personalized assessment of the technology students already possess. 

For the many students who already own laptops, opting out of the Chromebook distribution could have been a good choice – but one that wasn’t offered. The money used to purchase Chromebooks for these students could have been conserved or used more effectively, such as implementing new sustainability practices such as composting, or towards more mental health resources for students.  

If the reason for universal Chromebook distribution was the testing software, I’m wondering if it could it be downloaded on a MacBook or personal Chromebook for one user or browser? Is it necessary to have an additional computer solely for this purpose, especially when for at least my classes, we have yet to use the Chromebooks for a dedicated purpose or a specific application. 

Answers to these questions about the rationale for distribution are not easy to find. Information given by the PPS website regarding the Chromebooks goes as far as to explain how to clean, carry and responsibly use the Chromebook, but little about their distribution to PPS. 

In the 2020-21 CDL school year, a survey was sent out asking if students needed a Chromebook for online classes. Those Chromebooks were then distributed accordingly to those in need. This year, parents were once again asked if their students needed a district computer, and, even though some parents said no, their students were still given more technology. I hope that for future planning of technology distribution, the district will do a more detailed assessment of students’ needs for the school year.

 In some ways, the Chromebooks don’t seem to be a great solution. For example, the Chromebooks lack the higher level and more powerful computing capability needed for the computer science classes Lincoln offers. The Chromebooks only let students code on an online Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which is somewhere you can write code online, and don’t have the necessary computing power for even a computer science 1-2 class. Chromebooks are not a one-size-fits-all solution, and there are classes that require different technologies. 

It’s understandable that during a pandemic, the goal of the district was to create equal access to technology for every student. That, in itself, was a huge achievement. However, moving forward, it would make sense if PPS had customized options for students, to be more tailored to the needs of students and free up funds for other important uses. 

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