For over a decade, administrators and teachers at Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have tried a slew of hardware and software solutions to aid in educating the district’s students, and one way or another most of the technology fell short. They recently set out to create a new approach to integrating technology into the classroom that would better prepare students with skills for success in the future while meeting the daily educational requirements of the district. After careful research they selected a Microsoft-centric approach for unifying classroom devices, software, and even IT infrastructure.
A first step in the new program was adding to the district’s existing technology with the DPS IT Division's purchase of 2,500 Windows-based Dell Venue 11 tablets, which will be distributed as a pilot program to a select number of schools serving grades K through 8. The touchscreen wireless devices run on Windows 8.1 and are configured with an Intel i5 processor, 4 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabyte solid-state drives.
Mark Bartoski, the district’s Executive Director of Technology, says it’s the first big step in providing powerful touchscreen wireless devices that do not have any limitations in running software used throughout the district.
“We have limitations with iPads in running core school applications, such as Renaissance Learning and Carnegie Math,” says Bartoski. “We are also not able to secure, manage, track and update iPads like we can with Windows-based computers.”
In 2010 the district invested in Asus Netbooks, which run Windows and are loaded with the full Office suite. These were distributed to the schools so that grades 6 through 12 would have enough classroom devices to use every day.
“We still have a majority of those in place,” Bartoski says, “and are now introducing the more powerful Dell Venue devices into the district. We’re pushing to add Windows 8 devices in our schools because they’ll tightly integrate with the new student and administrator Office 365 roll-out this summer.”
Teachers and administrators are excited about the collaboration and anytime access that’s possible with the district’s planned move to Microsoft Office 365, including OneNote, Outlook, and the OneDrive cloud storage solution. Students and teachers will have access to the full suite of tools in Office 365, and automatic updates will ensure they will always have the latest versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, and Publisher.
“Chromebooks, Google Apps, iPads—that’s not the technology our students will use in college and the workplace after they graduate,” Bartoski says. “We want to train our students how to use Office and the latest Windows operating systems, as well as how to use important workplace tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Office 365 will allow our students to learn the software tools they’ll use in the world beyond school. We’re also planning to introduce electronic note-booking with OneNote, so students—and teachers—can create and keep all of their information in one place and collaborate by sharing notebook content.”
Microsoft OneDrive will be a huge improvement for helping students and teachers store and access homework, assignments, and other information. “Our schools have tried other storage solutions in the past like USB drives, but those need to always be with the student, and they can become corrupted or lost. Soon DPS students will access their secure OneDrive on practically any device to store, edit and retrieve their documents. Because all of their information will be loaded to the DPS-controlled cloud, they can instantly access it the next time they log into any computer from anywhere in the world. It will be revolutionary to our schools.”
DPS is also installing Microsoft solutions for its backend information technology, including the Active Directory service—part of the Windows Server operating system that gives administrators centralized granular controls over Windows devices—and SharePoint Online collaboration software. The district is deploying SharePoint during the summer of 2015 for administrators, eventually making it available to teachers and students in the 2015-2016 school year. Schools will be able to create their own SharePoint sites to allow more opportunities for collaborative learning.
“We’re even hoping to replace our Symantec anti-virus solution with Microsoft’s virus protection. Microsoft now has a strong solution for just about everything we need,” says Bartoski. “That helps us reduce the number of vendors we’re dealing with and should help reduce our operating costs. Every year we have a technology vendor that rises to the top, and this year that vendor is Microsoft. They’ve helped and invested in us, and so we’re happy to have invested in them.”