Falmouth High School moves into the cloud

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FALMOUTH — Administrators at Falmouth High School have their heads in the clouds – the digital clouds.

The school this year will roll out a cloud-computing program that will achieve a student-to-laptop computer ratio of 1-to-1 in a very different way than most Maine schools.

As part of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, the state has encouraged schools to purchase laptop computers for all its high school students, while providing computers to all seventh-graders across the state for free.

But in Falmouth, students will be able to use any device they have, from their own personal laptop computer or a tablet, such as an iPad, or a school-owned laptop, and it won’t matter who has a PC and who has an Apple.

“On any given day, about half the school brings their own devices,” Principal Gregg Palmer said.

Palmer said that as much as the school wanted to become a 1-1 ratio school as part of the MLTI program, which would provide laptop computers to all students, it simply wasn’t financially feasible. And, until recently, that was the only way for all students to have the same access to technology.

But not anymore.

Now, Palmer said, all students need is a way to connect to the Internet.

“The game has changed so much because of cloud computing,” he said.

Cloud-based computers make use of large, off-site computer servers to store and share information, software and content. The entire district already utilizes Google programs and has an open wireless network students use to access them. The new program will continue to utilize that, while making sure every student in the building has Internet access.

Students who bring their own devices will continue to do so, Palmer said. But, in addition, the school will use its purchasing power to arrange a deal for families to buy their own laptops. The school is considering offering students an option to purchase Lenovo Thinkpads for about $390 each, plus about $100 in software and warranty services.

The school would purchase no more than 150 of the Thinkpads for this year’s freshman class. Some of the computers will be assigned to students who do not have their own devices and some will be left for the library, where students whose computers are being repaired will be able to borrow replacements.

The school already has 250 Macbook laptops, which Palmer said would be distributed to students once the laptop ratio reached 1-to-1. For now, they remain on carts available for classrooms whose teachers sign them out.

Palmer said he hopes the new arrangement will level the playing field for all students.

“As long as you can get someone online, they have access to the tools everyone else has,” he said.

The school already uses an online math program and many teachers require their students to access the Internet for assignments. Palmer said online resources may reduce the need to purchase computers in the future.

“In schools that have gone to (the 1-1 laptop program), eventually they stopped purchasing textbooks for every student,” Palmer said.

Palmer said the school is utilizing leftover Stimulus Plan money to purchase the Thinkpads. Parents of high school students should expect to see a letter in the coming weeks outlining the way they can take advantage of the purchase if they are interested.

Palmer said he hopes to have the laptops in students’ hands by early October.

“This would put us back on the cutting edge,” he said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.