Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2001

USD 232 endorses new laptop program

$1.5 million plan would bring hand-held computers into all USD 232 schools by 2005

December 6, 2001

De Soto USD 232's second attempt to find a technology solution was unveiled at Monday's board of education meeting when the Technology Study Committee presented a $1.5 million plan to introduce laptop computers to classrooms.

Superintendent Marilyn Layman said she was glad to finally introduce the project the district had spent so much time researching.

"We are introducing a world-class, state-of-the art working environment," Layman said.

The board approved the plan, instructing the administration to continue planning and instituting the program.

Under the plan announced Monday, approximately 200 laptops would make their way into district schools in the next few years. All De Soto schools should have laptops for students by August 2005.

"We can't afford to do all the schools at once," Layman said. "So we've got to do it this way."

Students will learn Microsoft Office, Word, Excel and PowerPoint when they are introduced to the laptops. They will have the option of taking the laptops home with them at the end of each day.

In August, the school board voted to go with NetSchools Inc.'s wireless laptop program as its classroom technology program. They backed away from that decision after a fact-finding tour of Pennsylvania schools using the program raised issues about compatibility with the district's existing software and other concerns. Without NetSchools, the district can select their own choice of programming while designing a laptop program.

Layman noted the laptop program's funding would be partially dependent on voters approving the proposed $91.5 bond issue in May.

The phase-in approach concerned Board President Curtis Allenbrand because there would be a chance students would start learning the computers only to lose them when they change grade levels or schools. Allenbrand was assured that if that does happen, it would only be for a short while.

Board members also instructed the administration to include Woodsonia in its plans in case the school isn't closed on schedule.

The laptops will have to be integrated with textbooks when they are first introduced, but will eventually replace textbooks, board members agreed. Board member Thomas said he was a fan of the laptops because they would give teachers greater flexibility when creating their curriculum.

"We're getting away from being held hostage by the textbook companies," Thomas said. "We can do anything we want."

Technology staffers don't expect this phase-in would be easy. Teachers will essentially have to be taught a whole new way of teaching.

Teachers will spend several days learning how to use the technology. Then they will have to become so familiar with it as teach their students how to use the laptops.

One committee member commented that it might be difficult to teach teachers to teach.

But the committee is ready for the challenge, said district technology director Doug Weis. They will have a technology resource specialist on hand to walk the schools and teachers through the process.

Teachers will likely be the ones making the biggest transition to this new way of learning.

Administrators are in the process of recruiting teaching staff with technological backgrounds to join the faculty at the 47th Street Elementary. The school, which is to open next August, will be the first to receive the new technology.

"All of the best and brightest won't necessarily be taken out of the schools, but we're looking for the technologically proficient," Layman said.

Among the concerns the district expects to encounter with the new technology are copyright infringement, data protection, privacy harassment and laptop damages.

Weis noted that they expect to encounter discipline problems and accidents, but for the most part, he said he thinks the students will treat their computers with respect, based on what he saw at a school in Pennsylvania already using laptops.

"The kids just didn't want to be without their computers," Weis said. "So there wasn't a lot of damage."

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