SPRINGDALE — Every student in the Springdale School District, within three years, could hold an iPad or Chromebook in his or her hands.
It’s important for students to work with and understand technology, because most careers they will work in — from being a chef in a restaurant kitchen to a mechanic in an auto repair shop — use computers, said Geoff Fletcher, deputy executive director at the State Educational Technology Directors Association.
Technology In Education
• In 2009, 97 percent of teachers in the U.S. had at least one computers in their class everyday.
• In 2009, the ratio of students to computers in classrooms was 5.3-to-1.
• In 2009, Internet access was available for 93 percent of computers in classrooms.
• 60 percent of teachers have access to an interactive whiteboard.
• In 2013, 35 percent of classes had tablets or e-readers.
• In 2012, 20 percent of classes had tablets or e-readers.
Source: Staff Report
At A Glance
• Allows teachers to reinforce and expand upon concepts they are teaching.
• Helps keep students motivated.
• Helps improves students attitudes about learning.
• Helps students who learn differently from each other.
• Improves student test scores.
• Improves the quality of student work.
• Prepares students for the future.
Source: Staff Report
“To think that it isn’t used or shouldn’t be used in education is crazy to me,” he said.
Officials are expanding technology use in Springdale schools by providing a device for every student, said Clay Hendrix, assistant superintendent for education innovation, technology systems, science, technology, engineering, math and district accountability. Students in kindergarten through second grade will use iPad Minis and students in grades three through 12 will use Chromebooks.
Officials plan to have 5,000 devices in the schools by this summer and 23,000 devices in schools over the next three years, Hendrix said. Schools with the highest ratio of students per device will be first to receive devices. The addition of technology will be spaced out over three years to give teachers and staff time to acclimate to the change.
“We will distribute to schools in waves so it’s more equitable,” he said.
Zack Austin, a freshman at George Junior High School, said he has a desktop computer at home, but having a laptop computer for school would be convenient, because he would be able to take it anywhere he went. He would want to use the laptop for Google, Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint. Zack said he would be able to finish his homework much more quickly if he had a laptop.
“I can just go on the Internet and look it up instead of looking through textbooks for 15 minutes,” he said.
The devices will be paid for with money from the Race to the Top Grant the district received in December, Hendrix said.
According to grant paperwork, $17,944,869 from the grant will be used to pay for new technology, including other projects such as new Environmental And Spatial Technology classrooms. The district received $25,878,038 from the grant.
The ratio of one computer to one student in classrooms is a national trend, Fletcher said. Some schools allow students to take the devices home while others don’t. Other school districts encourage students to bring their own laptops or tablets and supply devices for those who don’t have one.
Officials in Springdale haven’t yet decided whether students will be allowed to take the devices home, Hendrix said.
Many students are already using technology at home, Fletcher said. It’s difficult for them when they have to go to school and learn in an environment where there isn’t any, or not enough, technology.
“It’s a huge disconnect for kids,” he said.
When Lakeside Junior High School opened in the fall, there was one Chromebook for every two students, said Michael Shepherd, principal. Each classroom has about 15 Chromebooks, which are Internet-based and don’t allow any files to be saved on the device.
Shepherd said the laptops make a big difference in the way students learn. Students are more engaged because they are used to using computers for writing and communication.
“Twenty-first century learning has to look different than 20th century learning,” he said. “We have to meet our kids where they already are.”
When students use technology for education, they’re no longer just consuming information, but also producing it, Fletcher said. When every student in a classroom has a device to work with, there are more activities the class can participate in and more ways for them to understand concepts.
“That opens up the Internet and hands the world to the kids,” he said.
New Technology High School opened this year in Rogers, said Cris Carter, district chief information officer. Every student in the school has an Apple MacBook Pro they can use at school and take home.
There are textbooks in the classrooms, but most students don’t use them because they use online textbooks or other resources on the Internet, said Lauren Westbrook, a freshman. Students also use a program called Echo allowing them to look at class agendas and assignments, upload completed assignments, communicate with other students and check grades.
“Everything is online,” she said.
Having a laptop and Echo means students can’t use the “my dog ate my homework” excuse, Lauren said. Most assignments have deadlines and have to be uploaded by a specified time. Lauren said she thinks this style of learning will help her with her future career.
“It’s aimed at a business setting,” she said.
School districts can encounter a few challenges when they implement this type of program, Fletcher said. Many districts start using the devices, then officials realize they need more bandwidth because the Internet is slowed down by so much use. Bandwidth is the amount of data available to users for access to the Internet.
Springdale has 300 megabits of bandwidth and officials are trying to expand it to 3,000 megabits in the fall, Hendrix said.
Technical support can also be an issue, Fletcher said.
“Some of them are going to break, and some of them aren’t going to work right,” he said of computers.
There are 17 technicians in Springdale who help with technical support, and officials are hiring six more. Each school in the district also has one or two technicians on campus in addition to the 17 who work districtwide, he said.
Teachers in districts with one device per student also need training, Fletcher said. They need to understand how to use the equipment for teaching and need to share experiences with other teachers.
“That’s not just a one-time workshop, that’s ongoing support,” he said.
Officials in Springdale plan to use a training program for third- through eighth-grade teachers, Hendrix said. Training sessions under the program take place about one day each month for two years. He said he’s looking into options for training opportunities for teachers in other grades, he said.
There are also ways to deal with devices that go missing and students downloading undesirable material, Hendrix said. Internet on school campuses has filters so students can’t access certain websites. Officials can install a program on the laptops to filter the Internet even when students are at home.
If a student were to steal a laptop or iPad or move and not return it, officials would pursue it like they do any other school property taken, Hendrix said.
“You do whatever is legal to get those school assets back,” he said.
Officials can disable the devices remotely, rendering them useless to whoever has them.
Bentonville and Fayetteville school districts have made efforts toward increasing technology in their schools.
Fayetteville had one desktop computer per student in its elementary schools about 10 years ago, said Susan Norton, executive director of information systems. By 2007, the ratio was one laptop for every two students in the middle schools.
“It was successful, but that was a whole different era,” she said. “That equipment is now obsolete.”
Officials are working to have one computer for every two students throughout the district starting in 2015, Norton said. They plan to have one computer per student in each language arts class at Fayetteville High School by next school year.
Bentonville has a pilot program that started two years ago, said Judy Marquess, director of instruction for grades seven through 12. The program allows teachers to apply for a grant that gives their classroom one laptop for each student. The grant is paid for with district money and some money from the Bentonville Public Schools Foundation, she said.
Similar to plans in Springdale, students in kindergarten through second grade get iPads and those in third grade through 12th grade get laptops, Marquess said. This works well, because students in third grade and above need to work on keyboarding skills.
“We matched the device to what the kids need to be able to do with the device,” she said.
There are hundreds of classrooms in the district and 49 have received grants, Marquess said.
“The kids love them,” she said. “They come natural to it.”