Virginia School District Buying Chromebooks for Students

When school re-opens in the fall, Virginia's Chesterfield County School District will be providing Dell Chromebooks to its older students.

Chromebooks for education

Some 32,000 Chromebooks are being purchased by the Chesterfield County Public Schools in Chesterfield, Va., so that all middle and high school students in the district have one to use for their studies starting this fall.

The district's new Chromebook initiative was announced by Jason Katcher, Google's head of North America large customer education sales, in a June 6 post on the Google Enterprise Blog. Before choosing Chromebooks for its students, the district conducted pilot tests with six different kinds of devices to find the best choice for its students, wrote Katcher.

Adam Seldow, the district's executive director of technology, told eWEEK that while the students have had access to Windows laptops and desktop computers in the schools in the past, each student has never had one-on-one access to a machine full-time. Instead, the limited number of Windows laptops were on computer carts, which meant that they could only be used for short periods of time, said Seldow.

"The students shared them and weren't using them that often" via the carts, he said. "There was a lot of demand and relative low supply, with about five students to each laptop."

The new Dell Chromebooks for each of the approximately 32,475 middle and high school students will change that, said Seldow. Chromebook prices start at $249, according to Google.

"What we look at [with this project] is an extension of our blended learning" in the district, which brings together "the best of online teaching and the best of face-to-face teaching, where students have a greater ability to direct their own learning," said Seldow. "They can extend their learning by doing extra lessons on their own, or they can supplement what they are doing in class" using the Chromebooks and the resources they provide.

Google products and services are not new for the district, said Seldow, explaining that Google Apps has been a tool for students for more than two years.

Teachers and administrators will not be receiving Chromebooks, but will continue to employ the Windows machines they already are using, he said.

The students will be able to do their work on their Chromebooks in school as well as at home.

Chromebooks were selected over other devices because the pilot tests showed that students could learn well with them and because they would integrate easily with existing school networks, said Seldow. Windows laptops also fulfilled both of these criteria, but the Chromebooks will cost half of what Windows laptops would have cost, he added.

The school district, which includes 62 schools, set up a special Website where it explained the initiative to residents, students and parents. The Chesterfield school district is one of the country's 100 largest school systems, according to Google.

In March, Google and its partners unveiled two new Samsung Chromebooks for schools and educators at the fourth annual SXSWEdu conference in Austin, Texas; the company's Chromebook for education marketplace continues to expand. The Samsung Chromebooks included an 11-inch Chromebook 2, priced at $320, and a 13-inch Chromebook priced at $400.

In December 2013, Dell launched its first-ever Chromebook for students and educators.

Chromebooks and their desktop brethren Chromeboxes run Google's Chrome operating system and feature a wide range of preinstalled, cloud-based Google services and products, including Google Docs and Google Calendar. Chromebooks allow users to do their work online with less need for on-machine storage for large applications and files.