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District to give students virtual backpacks



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July 25, 2012 - Oxford Community Schools will give a new virtual locker to all district students and staff this fall.

This digital locker, called eBackpack, is like other lockers in that it allows storage of whatever you'd like to lock away. But unlike a real locker, the eBackpack provides unlimited space.

No additional hardware will be needed to operate eBackpack; only a username and password will be provided to K-12 students.

Dr. James Schwarz, Oxford's Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, is very supportive of the new digital storage tool. "Without (eBackpack), we would be forced to use manual folder portfolios, which risk loss or removal of artifacts as well as taking up lots of file cabinet space," Schwarz said.

Following Schwarz, Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives & Technology Tim Throne said there was a lot to like about the new digital lockers.

He explained that in the past students have been issued a "home folder" that are accessible while at school. As storage needs grew, however, Oxford was faced with the choice of either purchasing more digital space to keep up with the demand or imposing a cap on usage.

The eBackpack service is paid out of Throne's operating budget, and costs roughly $10,000 per year. Throne explained the storage space aspect of the decision process as similar to asking "do I want to lease disk space or do I want to buy it?"

The advantage of leasing over buying are easy to see. On the one hand there will be added confidence knowing there are more server sites around the country to backup Oxford data. On the other hand, there is a regimen of security measures put in place beyond what Oxford provides at the local level.

"Anytime you have more types of products scanning," Throne figures, "if one product doesn't pick it up then you've got a good chance that maybe another product will." The increase in both virus and malware scans and the extra backup sites lead Throne to conclude security will be enhanced with eBackpack, not diminished.

Another problem solved by eBackpack in addition to the perpetual appetite for storage space is the limitation of only working on projects while at school. Throne said student work kept in eBackpack will be accessible "anywhere in the world . . . from school or home, it doesn't matter."

Whereas previous attempts to provide digital lockers faced structural impediments (space and availability) that ultimately rendered them unworkable, Throne sees "two of our biggest problems" solved by eBackpack.

But the unlimited storage space provides benefits beyond the merely pragmatic. Schwarz explained that eBackpack is a great educational tool because it "allows for student e-portfolios that can archive student work through the grades."

Once digitally collated, student work "in the portfolios cannot be deleted, but can be commented on by both the student and teacher," he mentioned. Schwarz likes eBackpack because it "gives us the data storage space (needed for) a large digital initiative."

The enhanced chronological perspective enabled by eBackpack will allow students a greater awareness of their thinking and development, providing reflection and a record of knowledge discovery emphasized by the IB curriculum.

In an era of increasingly digital education experiences in which data storage space comes with a hefty price tag and never-ending security concerns, the eBackPack looks to be a smart investment for Oxford.

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