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BCSC spending $2 million on computers, whiteboards


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Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. is investing $2 million to upgrade student technology — including about 2,000 laptops and a dozen interactive whiteboards.

But school officials still believe it’s just one component of how students learn.

The district will still invest in good teachers, and those teachers will continue to teach research in the library in addition to online.

“Technology is just the tool,” BCSC Director of Information Technology Mike Jamerson said. “It’s the enabler.”

The corporation is close to completing its three-year technology plan, due March 15.

The plan will be grounded in the existing instructional framework, called Universal Design for Learning, said Jamerson and Director of Secondary Education Bill Jensen.

For example, Peggy Scherschel, a math teacher at Clifty Creek Elementary School, has embraced technology in her classroom. She uses it to track progress, deliver lessons and for individual work time.

But she does not let it take over.

“We reinforce the paper skills,” she said. “We do a little bit of everything and touch on every aspect that would help the students learn.”

That’s part of a Universal Design for Learning framework the district implemented more than 10 years ago. It is a set of principles that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn by creating a blueprint that works for everyone.

It is not a single, one-

size-fits-all solution, but rather a flexible approach that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs, according to the school corporation.

If a student learns best if he or she has a textbook in hand rather than an iPad, Universal Design for Learning recognizes that, Jensen said.

“It’s asking how we make sure our technology plan supports implementation of Universal Design for Learning and removes barriers,” he said.

Bring Your Own Device

In addition to using

$2 million in bonds approved

at the Feb. 10 board meeting to purchase about 2,000 laptops for elementary, middle and high school classrooms, the school corporation also has implemented a Bring Your Own Device policy.

The district has purchased one device for every three students at the elementary level, and about 23 percent of secondary students will have access to a school-provided computer at one time. As more students bring in their own devices to use during school time, that ratio will move closer to one-to-one at no additional cost to the district.

Jamerson said he has visited other schools implementing a 1:1 program that provides a device for every child in the classroom, but such initiatives do not necessarily yield student progress.

“They were using the devices to display worksheets, to fill in the blanks in Microsoft Word,” he said. “That’s really nothing more than electronic paper.”

In Bartholomew Consolidated classrooms, teachers are encouraged to ask students to use their devices to research topics being discussed in class or interact with each other on educational message boards.

About 7 or 8 students per class at Schmitt Elementary bring a laptop or tablet from home, but it’s not required of them. Lessons are designed to allow students the flexibility to use textbooks, school-provided computers or their own devices.

With the proliferation of online testing, however, the district must consider hardware and software requirements of different test vendors when purchasing devices. Students cannot use their own devices for the dozens of tests required in elementary through high school.

Jensen said students perform best on a screen between 10 and 13 inches diagonally, so that makes smaller and cheaper tablets out of the question.

Chromebooks, a popular and affordable Cloud-based laptop option that has been used in the district, is not supported by the current ISTEP+ vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill.

The $650 Dell laptop computers that do fit the needs won’t be available in time for this spring’s ISTEP+ testing window, but Jensen expects they will help students feel more comfortable and achieve higher scores during 2015 standardized testing.

Although the district will continue to provide computers for testing and for graphic design and C4 courses requiring advanced software such as Adobe or computer-aided design programs, schools will continue to push students to bring their own. That’s because it’s cheaper and students interact more naturally with their own laptop, tablet or smartphone.

There’s no liability for the school, either.

The district’s Bring Your Own Device policy says personal electronic devices are brought to the school at the users’ risk and staff members are not responsible for theft, loss or damage.

“Kids become attached and associated with their own device,” Jamerson said. “Everyone has their own preference. You’re a Mac person or a PC person.”

An issue of equity

But there are challenges with students bringing their own computer.

What happens when a family cannot afford to buy a laptop or tablet?

Jamerson, a founding member of the Consortium for School Networking Indiana chapter, visited a country that addressed that issue just a few years ago.

Portugal established a goal in 2008 to put a netbook-like device in the hands of every child in the country — that’s about 1 million children, similar to the child population of Indiana.

“Their focus was to change the entire country and bring in into a digital economy,” Jamerson said.

He said that classroom initiative a few years ago has resulted in many changes in Portugal, including:

You cannot pay your taxes unless you do it on a computer.

You can start a company in just 48 hours.

The largest newspaper company no longer provides print editions.

The country split the cost of the device three ways — between the family, the government and industry.

“There’s a country making sure they address equity, which is obviously a challenge with Bring Your Own Device,” Jensen said.

Bartholomew Consolidated also is making strides to ensure disadvantaged students have the same access to devices, such as laptops or tablets, as their peers.

Students who qualify for free and reduced lunches can check out devices at Columbus East and Columbus North high schools that allow them to participate in Bring Your Own Device activities.

Jensen said that process could be extended to middle and elementary schools. The district also offers discounts on personal computers through Dell and HP.

Buying bandwidth

As students bring their own devices from home, the district must plan to provide enough bandwidth for uninterrupted Internet access.

Current policy dictates students must access the Internet through the school’s network because of safety filters, but Jamerson said that could be negotiable in the future.

But it’s difficult to know what to plan for when the technology landscape is changing so fast, Jamerson said.

The iPad had not even been introduced five years ago; the tablet concept was announced April 3, 2010.

He said one school is planning to have enough bandwidth to support as many as 10 devices per student, including laptops, phones, tablets and e-readers, etc. Jamerson said two or three devices is more realistic — a smartphone, tablet and a laptop.

He said those 10 devices could include electronic textbooks that communicate with each other, classroom clickers that send student responses to the teacher or devices that cannot even yet be fathomed.

Who knows how much bandwidth those devices will require, he said.

The State Educational Technology Directors recommends schools provide Internet connections at 100 kilobytes per second per student — about six times as much as the district currently offers.

“We have not been bumping up too closely against that limit,” Jamerson said. “But as we push more and more content out to the Cloud, rely more on Internet resources and support more devices, that number will need to increase.”

BCSC isn’t alone on the bandwidth issue.

According to a survey conducted by the Consortium for School Networking, 99 percent of U.S. school districts indi-

cated the need for additional bandwidth and connectivity in the next 36 months.

The data was collected to inform the Federal Communications Commission on the specific needs of school districts — potentially to influence the Internet discount the commission provides to schools and libraries.

The Bartholomew Consolidated School Board awarded a new service contract to Comcast at its Feb. 10 meeting. It will more than double the current bandwidth and provide a backup Internet connection.

“We could switch all our service over in a disaster ... if somebody ran into one of the telephone poles that carries the fiber, or if there were a fire,” Jamerson said.

The resiliency is becoming increasingly important as more high-stakes tests move online.

“We’re not anywhere near the end of this tunnel in terms of the things that are coming and the challenges of connectivity,” he said. “How will that change when devices and books and materials really start communicating back and forth?”

———————————————

Results of technology study

The Indiana Department of Education conducted a technology survey in which about 400 local educators responded. Following are highlighted results from Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
 
Cellphone policy
 
NOTE: There is no districtwide policy on cellphones. The decision to allow or prohibit phones in schools and in the classroom are left up to schools and sometimes individual teachers. Clifty Creek Elementary does not allow cellphones at school, for example, while Columbus East High School only allows cellphones to be used in certain areas. Some educators allow phones in the classroom for instructional uses, and others have chosen not to address the technology at all.
  • No policy: 5 percent
  • Prohibited: 55 percent
  • Not in class: 11 percent
  • Permitted: 29 percent

Wireless network access

  • No wireless: 2 percent
  • Less than 50 percent of users can access wireless: 9 percent
  • More than 50 percent of users can access wireless: 10 percent
  • All users can access wireless: 79 percent

Types of computer labs

  • Stationary labs: 94 percent
  • Mobile labs: 80 percent

Software used in class

  • Microsoft Office: 100 percent
  • Open Office: 16 percent
  • Google Docs: 14 percent
  • Other: 6 percent

Classes that teach keyboarding

  • Yes: 83 percent
  • No: 17 percent

Formal use of social media

  • No formal use: 42 percent
  • Facebook: 42 percent
  • MySpace: 0 percent
  • Twitter: 34 percent
  • Other: 18 percent

 

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