In this guest post, Andrew Cox, Director of Technology at Aiken County Public School District, shares his story of the positive impact upgrading to Windows 10 has had on the South Carolina school district.
Aiken County Public School District first began working with Microsoft when we adopted Bing in the Classroom in 2015. Windows 10 is the most recent technology rollout for the Aiken County Public School District. When we decided to move to a one device per student system in 2015, we considered Windows devices, iPads, and Chromebooks. Our priorities for classroom technologies were to enhance the learning experience and minimize the learning curve for teachers and students, be cost-effective, easy to deploy, centrally managed, and prepare our students for real-world computing practices. Since I previously worked for Apple and was also the Director of Technology for a “Google district,” I had a thorough understanding of the pros and cons of each platform, and so I used my experience and knowledge to determine which would be the best fit for my current district of 25,000 students and 1,500 teachers.
Brandee Green, 4th and 5th Grade ELA, Social Studies Teacher and Department Chair at Aiken Elementary School works with a student using OneNote on a Windows device.
Too often, I hear of schools that make major technology purchases that do little to improve the actual learning experience. When properly applied, however, technology makes learning more efficient, increases motivation, and is a helpful tool for both the student and teacher. A technology platform that is consistent across devices and scenarios in a school district creates a consistent experience for administrators, teachers, and students. Our district chose Windows 10 so we can deliver multimedia to the classroom, increase opportunities for research, enable greater collaboration between students, and generally allow students and teachers access to materials and methodologies that would have been considered magic just a generation ago. Aiken County Public Schools selected Windows because of its flexibility, professional ecosystem, consistent user experience, and overall responsiveness.
Aiken Elementary School 5th Graders use Office on their Windows devices to complete class assignments.
Tight budgets are a reality for most school districts, and ours is no exception. We wanted to choose a platform that’s cost-effective–not only to be excellent stewards of public funds, but also to ensure that we have long-lasting equipment that requires minimal maintenance and upkeep. With that in mind, we are very excited about our decision to upgrade to Windows 10! Windows, as a platform, has long been one of the easiest to deploy and manage. Group Policy and Active Directory make it relatively simple to make changes across the district with just a few clicks. We don’t have to plug in our tablets to a laptop to deploy apps and we don’t have a disaster on our hands if our network has a problem and the cloud is unavailable. The latest versions of System Center Configuration Manager and other Windows platform deployment tools have simplified the work the Technology Department undertakes when upgrading and maintaining. In order to test the hardware and get an idea of how the devices could be used, we deployed hybrid Windows laptops in one 5th grade classroom as a prototype. We then expanded the rollout to more than 50 other classrooms the next year, with plans to continue growing our one to one program every year until we saturate the district.
A 5th Grade Student at Aiken Elementary uses a Windows device to complete her in class work in her Social Studies class.
The ease of deployment with Windows 10 made an in-house deployment possible. Our own technology staff—six individuals in networking and 15 individuals in the field—is performing the Windows 10 upgrade. Over the last three months alone, we have deployed about 2,400 laptops and desktops in computer labs and carts, all with Windows 10, using only our own personnel. This saved us thousands of dollars on contractors and ready-made images from third parties. We estimate we spent approximately $85,000 on outside contractors when we upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 and have spent $0 upgrading to Windows 10.
The best thing about our upgrade to Windows 10 is the great outcome that we get for our students and teachers. As one of our teachers noted, “The consistency with Windows 10 across all types of devices—whether it be a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop—means that students spend less time learning the operating system and more time learning the lesson materials.”
With Windows 10 and Office 365, the buttons and commands are always consistent and the results are powerful. Additionally, Windows 10 is even more efficient than previous operating systems—it runs faster and with greater reliability on existing Windows 8 and Windows 7 devices. We’ve also heard from colleges and businesses that many students arrive ill-prepared for business-class software. But since our students have access to the world’s foremost business and professional operating system in Windows 10, they arrive prepared, confident, and ready to begin working and researching without remedial instruction on enterprise software.
A student at North Augusta High School in the Aiken County Public School District participates in a discussion in his English class.
Windows 10 is now part of daily classroom life in the Aiken County Public Schools. Our teachers are now untethered from their desks by using Surface tablets and wireless video adapters to control their projectors. Our students collaborate using OneDrive and Office 365 in “paperless” environments. With Bing in the Classroom, we have an ad-free search engine that not only provides a safe and distraction-free environment for our students, but also equips our teachers with fun and interactive lesson plans and learning tools.
Products that may not have been originally designed for education are also valuable assets. For example, our special needs students use the Xbox and Kinect in their physical therapy classes and Minecraft is in demand at all levels. The power of the Windows ecosystem even goes beyond the classroom – all district administrators and principals are equipped with Windows Phones so they have the Windows experience in their pockets. Their files are available via OneDrive wherever they go, and the mobile version of Microsoft Office means that they can edit and share at will. Network and System Administrators are equipped with Microsoft Bands, which are configured to instantly provide alerts of server and network issues so that the Technology staff can respond with lightning speed to ensure our students and faculty have maximum network and resource uptime. We have fully embraced a platform that embraces us back—with Microsoft and Windows 10, we know we’re equipping our students, faculty, and staff with the very finest in professional tools!
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