CSV Volunteers at CRLS took a crash course in the Cambridge Public School district’s digital equity program, called CRLS Connects, on Thursday, November 15. The cornerstone of the initiative is the Google Chromebook, which presenter Paige Graves called “an internet machine with a keyboard.” Software cannot be downloaded to the Chromebooks and there is almost no local storage space for documents on the devices.
Every student at CRLS has been issued a Chromebook that can be taken home. The 2018–19 school year marks a milestone in a several-year process to ensure all students have the same access to technology resources: a laptop and the suite of applications created by Google, known as G Suite, and document storage in the Cloud through Google Drive. Juniors and seniors have been issued Chromebooks for the first time this year.
Google’s spreadsheets, word processing, and other G suite tools are accessed by high school students on the CPS-owned Chromebooks. The district has filters in place to minimize distractions, said Graves, a former history and technology teacher at Matignon High School. She is one of two instructional technology specialists at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, and emphasized that access to digital resources is modified from time to time. For instance, in November, CRLS announced that YouTube videos may shown in class if they are teacher-authorized.
Graves explained to volunteers that student privacy on the Internet has been a high priority. Cambridge is one of 80-plus districts that ensure student data, routinely collected over the Internet, including browsing history and cookies, is governed by a required provider contract. For example, Kami, a Google extension which allows students to annotate PDF files, is authorized by CPS as an extension to Google Drive.
The district’s policies about particular applications and tools has already experienced some change, with YouTube moving from the prohibited category into the use-if-requested-by-teacher category just this month.
Graves also took the attendees on a hands-on tour of Google Classroom, used by many teachers to make assignments, collect assignments, and share documents with students. She encouraged volunteers to nudge students to explore the variety of tools available on Google Drive, including a note-taking tool called Keep. Slides from this workshop are available here.
Deandra Williams, CSV’s director of high school volunteers, echoed the concern that increased technology not violate student privacy rights. Graves noted that students are blocked from sharing Google Drive documents with volunteer tutors or mentors—or anyone else with an email address outside the cpsd.us domain. Neither student nor volunteer should share passwords or login information on any account. Participants in the workshop said it was effective for students to copy and paste written work into an email to ask for feedback from their tutor.
Volunteers who are not yet familiar with Google applications can visit the page of video tutorials here to learn more.
Further information about the district’s CRLS Connects initiative is available on the Cambridge Public School district’s web site, as is information about the district’s broader efforts to establish equity in Cambridge students’ education.
Not yet signed up to volunteer at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School? Here’s the link to orientation information and dates.