Cape school tech initiative could initially cost hundreds of thousands
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Editor's note: This is the second of two stories on the Cape Girardeau School District's research into a program of integrating individual electronic devices into district classrooms.
Technology is already in use in varying degrees in the classroom Amber Prasanphanich uses to teach business, ACT prep courses and computer applications at the Cape Girardeau School District's Alternative Education Center. Students use an online dropbox to turn in their homework and assignments done in class, activities are completed using computer programs and lessons are taught using digital materials and textbooks.
"I couldn't imagine my classroom without technology. I love technology," Prasanphanich said.
Frequent use of computers in her classes benefits students, she said, but there are always drawbacks to consider. She hopes the district will look closely at those as well as how well teachers would embrace an initiative the district is moving toward trying out. A "1:1" initiative would provide students with netbooks, which are small, Internet-capable laptops. Early plans call for students to be issued the netbooks on contracts. Students would be allowed to take their personal computer home, and a contract would hold students' guardians liable for any damages. Insurance plans would be available.
Discussions about how an initiative might work in Cape Girardeau are ongoing. District staff have visited other districts to see 1:1 in action, begun to compare costs of traditional and digital textbooks and have formed a committee to look at possibilities for an initiative launch. Putting computers in the hands of thousands of students could initially costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Theresa Hinkebein, Cape Girardeau's curriculum coordinator, said the district spent $211,000 on traditional textbooks for K-12 last year. The amount can be much higher when curriculum changes require new books for core subjects like math and language arts, she said. Last year the district ordered new books for its library, gifted and guidance programs. Each building in the district also has a fund for books that need to be replaced.
Prasanphanich said she hopes the initiative can be launched but that needs of individual classes need to be assessed for one to be successful.
"The device they choose will determine the outcome," she said.
Prasanphanich hopes the district will consider tablets instead of netbooks for several reasons. She said tablets allow for group interaction, vocabulary expansion and a gain of basic navigation skills to operate a tablet or smartphone. Using tablets while reading an electronic book in a group, for example, can become a vocabulary exercise, she said, since a student can run their finger across a word on the screen and read the pronunciation in the case they come across one they don't know.
She said she worries that the introduction of a laptop or netbook would mean students were on computers too much during class time. That would cause a problem, she said, because some still really need to use pencil and paper. Also, she said, if they are rarely asked to use those skills, they won't develop as they should.
"I just want to see a happy balance," she said. "I don't want to see it used to the extreme."
Teachers, she said, also want to be able to have control of how much technology they use in their classrooms and that if everyone is limited to using one system or a few systems and programs, the district could end up with devices sitting around unused.
Assistant superintendent Sherry Copeland said netbooks in classrooms wouldn't totally change the ways students have worked on assignments and the way teachers teach lessons. But some things would change, she said, and the change could be positive.
For one, there would be no more excuses, such as lost homework, or "not getting it."
Teachers would be able to tell, she said, if students were engaged because a 1:1 initiative would allow for closer monitoring of their activities. "Progress monitoring" results would be available on a teacher's computer in seconds after students finished taking a short quiz, for example, Copeland said. Some of that activity is already taking place in the district with use of learner response systems, where students use clickers to submit answers to questions projected in front of the class.
Copeland said the 1:1 initiative would also allow the district to offer more assistance to students who can't attend classes because they are homebound or on a suspension.
Most districts that implement a 1:1 initiative hope to see improved academic performance, but administrators in neither Cape Girardeau nor Ste. Genevieve, Mo., which will begin its initiative in August for grades six through 12, believe more technology is a "fix-all."
Ste. Genevieve superintendent Shelley Jokerst said her district hasn't found a definitive answer to whether student performance will improve due to 1:1 but that the district has a history of an overall strong academic performance and no change to that is anticipated with use of an initiative.
A 2011 report by the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University evaluated 1:1 initiatives in six states. It found "generally positive relationships between 1:1 environments and various aspects of the teaching and learning process" and some, but not all, evaluations found an association between laptop use and increased student achievement in several academic areas.
301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO