Callous Chromebooks


Zach Fisher

A CHS student works on an iMac in the journalism office, one of the few places in the school to keep desktop computers after the transition to one-to-one.

When Chromebooks were first integrated into CHS they didn’t come without controversy. It took time for students and teachers alike to adjust to the new addition, but eventually most classes found a place for them in their curriculum and most teachers had an easy transition to the Chromebooks, with the exception of some members of the physical science department.

Chromebooks, despite their usefulness, have a few clear flaws, the lack of processing power when compared to more conventional computational devices and the limited application choice due to the Chrome OS isn’t a problem for most classes. For the majority of humanities classes, and even some of the math and science classes, the Chromebooks are perfectly functional as the majority of the research and classwork is through online resources or using web-based tools such as Desmos and Google Sheets. Outside of these classes however, the Chromebooks usefulness becomes very limited.

The science department, and more specifically the chemistry and physics courses, have the majority of their labs centered around the software program Logger Pro. Almost every student in Clayton eventually becomes adept at the software and understands its usefulness in a lab setting. Every student is also issued a free copy for usage at home.

Unfortunately with the move to Chromebooks the science teachers were informed that they would need to switch to a Chromebook version of the software or find an alternative to the desktops because they would be removed within the end of the 2018-2019 year. In addition, the Chromebook version of Logger Pro, as described by Science Curriculum Coordinator Nathan Peck, is unsatisfactory, to say the least.

“The computers are the cornerstones for our lab stations because of all the technology that we use here, and we have literally hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of probes, work much better using the logger pro software that comes with the probes. The Chromebooks aren’t able to run the software and so I went to some workshops in which we used the Chromebook’s software and it is feasible to do, but it’s not as intuitive and for my AP classes it adds probably 20 minutes to the lab. We can get all the data but if it’s gonna take an extra 15 or 20 minutes it pushes us over the lab time. I’ve tried a couple of labs [using the chromebooks] in here and unlike the computers where you just launch a template, collect the data, and look at the science, on the Chromebook you have to enter commands to do the 1st and 2nd derivative and make the graphs and its very cumbersome and wastes valuable instructional time.”  

Physics teacher Gabe De la Paz has similar sentiments towards the Chromebook software.

“Once the desktops are gone there will be some changes, most of the labs we use with the sensors have files that are set up so that they’re ready to go for the kids, and that will have to change with using Chromebooks. We’re also incapable of doing video analysis on the Chromebooks, and graphing is going to be different as we’re going to have to use Google Sheets. Sheets can make graphs but not very easily and it’s easy for students to have graphs and equations that look right but are wrong due to one unchecked checkbox. Many of the workarounds are less than ideal.”

Despite the obvious decline in quality by switching to an alternative, the Clayton School District Technology Office is adamant on removing the desktops even though the science teachers have vocalized their issues with the software and their need for the desktops.  

This decision by the District administration has its origins in the original “tech committee” that started 3 years ago based on the idea of looking at future technology usage in Clayton.

When Chief Technology Officer Jeff Puls was asked about the tech committee and the input teachers were given he had nothing to comment and deferred to CHS Principal Dr. Dan Gutchewsky for answers.

Gutchewsky did not serve on the tech committee, but was aware of the committee’s presence and decision making.  

“They studied different aspects of technology and surveyed teachers about what technology needs they had … so they compiled that information from each of the departments and they then looked at possible solutions to meeting those needs and eventually it led to the proposal of 1:1 which the board approved. Then they started looking at devices and eventually settled on the Chromebooks. We then focused a good portion of our professional development on ensuring teachers were ready to use the technology.”

Gutchewsky relayed that even though they’ve been looking at replacing the desktops due to them being on a replacement cycle, they don’t want to sacrifice functionality and there’s never been an ultimatum where science teachers only use Chromebooks.

Gutchewsky proposed alternatives such as laptops but many of the science teachers have said that their past experiences with laptops weren’t positive due to heavy battery usage and lack of availability.

“One alternative to [the chromebooks] is to use laptops and there’s a few issues with them. Using laptop carts brings us back to 1996 when we first got the laptops and that was horrible then and it would be horrible now too.” De la Paz said, “First you have to set them up, like yesterday for example, we were doing a video analysis lab in which three classes were doing the same lab and we won’t be able to do three classes unless they give us three sets of laptops and that’s just physics so if the chemistry classes want to do a lab that day they can’t. Also, batteries on the laptop won’t last a full day and if the cart has the chargers built in then we’re going to have to plug laptops in between classes which adds time to the lab or we’re going to have to get a mess of chargers.”

The removal of the science desktops is odd when compared to other examples of desktop usage in the school. For example, the art department and the Globe both use desktops and even with the Chromebook integration they will not see their desktops being removed.

Even though every student has to go through the science department and eventually use some form of Logger Pro, it seems that the administration moved with haste to remove the science departments desktops, and leave them with only a year to come up with an alternative or restructure their lab curriculum.

“When we’re in lab [the desktop computers] are a huge part of what we are doing and even though we don’t have a heavy usage rate of them, when we do use them, they are super important,” Peck said. “When compared to some other equipment, such as our spectrometers when we do our spectroscopy labs, we have to use computers. We do some really cool stuff with the spectrometers that warrants their $1700 price tags. We use the computers way more frequently and they’re a lot less expensive. As a piece of science equipment, we depend a lot on our computers running LoggerPro software, particularly in Chemistry and Physics.”

The lack of time given and the little reasoning behind the removal of the desktops is frustrating for many of the science teachers as they feel they were given no voice in such a major decision and no time to come up with a solution.

Currently the administration and the science department are in talks with a device to replace the Chromebooks but the science department is hoping they don’t value technological and economic values over their pedagogical concerns.

“I’m hoping that something gets worked out so that the physical science departments have computers for our labs.” Peck said. “If it doesn’t, then there will be a substantial change in our lab program. For someone like me, who’s been teaching for 35 years, it has taken 35 years to develop a second to none lab program for you guys … I don’t relish in the idea of having to go back and scale it back to something that isn’t as good as what we have now, that’s just not the direction that you want to go.”