Dare County schools moving toward digital learning

By on February 2, 2014

laptopHeavy backpacks filled with textbooks may be a thing of the past when Dare County secondary students begin school next September. Instead, a laptop serving as a portal to their academic world may be all they need to engage in a new wave of learning.

The Dare County school system is gearing up to join the ranks of 30 other North Carolina districts that have implemented the 1:1 Learning Initiative, which is aimed at leveling the playing field by providing computer access to every student 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We want to prepare our students for their future, not our past,” says Superintendent of Schools Sue Burgess. “Computers will not replace teachers but will be a tool for teachers and students. They will use it a good percentage of the time but not exclusively.”

Carrying an annual price tag of between $225,000 and $250,000, the initiative is dependent on school board approval and would fall within the district’s current budget, the superintendent said. The district spends that much now leasing computers.

If approved, children in grades six through 12 will each be issued a laptop to complete assignments, receive guided instruction, access on-line textbooks and participate in other interactive learning.

Parents would be required to sign a contract before students would be issued a computer.

Burgess said teachers and staff are currently undergoing a three-semester training program to prepare for implementation of 1:1. Meanwhile, students and staff have been rating and experimenting with computers to determine which devices would best suit the needs of the district.

The anticipated launch comes after several years of research and consultations with other districts that already have the initiative up and running.

From pencil and paper to laptops

While the infusion of technology is nothing new to Dare County classrooms, the 1:1 initiative will equip each student with access to the same technology around the clock, explains First Flight High School Principal Arty Tillett.

“This initiative allows us to mitigate the gap between the haves and the have nots,” he said.

For students who don’t have Internet access at home, it is even more essential they have that access during the day, Burgess said. School officials are searching for solutions to address the lack of access some students may experience at home.

“It is very important to us that students have night-time access as much as possible,” the superintendent said.

On any given day, First Flight High School students could be using one of the six fully-functioning mobile laptop labs for classroom instruction.

students

First Flight High Senior Christian Doebler uses a laptop from the mobile lab to complete his senior project. Teacher Lauren Deal is on hand to help.

The mobile labs of about 25 laptops each are shared by teachers and carted from classroom to classroom. Students can also check the laptops out to bring home.

“With these laptop carts, any classroom at any point can become a lab,” said Tillett.

The dependence on hardcopy textbooks has lessened in recent years, Tillett said.

“The liability of textbooks is that once they are printed, they are already obsolete,” he said. “Online textbooks can be updated with the flick of a switch. It is brilliant technology educators have been fearful of using.”

An expansive filter system will be implemented with the new initiative, and computer troubleshooting strategies are already in full swing.

“We are showing students how to trouble shoot in the moment,” First Flight High School Media Coordinator Susan McFarlane said. “We want to meet these kids where they are to make sure they have the skills now to be successful.”

Tillett anticipates the space once used for stationary labs will now be used as troubleshooting areas.

While the 1:1 initiative may lessen the dependency on hardcopy textbooks, the decreased reliance on textbooks has been embraced for a number of years in the district, particularly in the middle schools.

“Textbooks are not used like they were in the 60s, where they were the only thing we learned from,” Burgess said. “The future of learning is that textbooks are supplemental. They are not the one and only source of information.”

While there has been a reduction in the number of textbooks purchased in the secondary schools, Burgess said it is coincidental to the run-up to implementation of 1:1 learning.

The move in education, she said, is to have a few classroom sets instead of a textbook for every student.

Under the new initiative, students will be able to take their laptops home and listen to a digital lesson normally taught in class. Called flipped instruction, the videos contain all the information for students to understand a concept. They will then do homework and participate in class discussion under the direct instruction of the teacher.

“This allows teachers to facilitate instruction,” Tillett explained. Students can also use the videos to prepare for a test, or if they miss a class, they will have access to the instruction.

“We keep kids interested when we provide a variety of ways for them to learn,” Burgess said. “This gives teachers more time to interact with students during the day to practice what they learn and apply the concepts from the lecture.”

In addition, a Learning Management System called Haiku has been implemented throughout district schools. The system allows teachers to create their own classroom pages, organize content blocks and publish documents and class assignments on their individualized pages. The system facilitates individualized instruction and helps teachers streamline students’ work to one place.

With 1:1, if a student forgets his or her laptop at home, he or she just needs to grab one at the school and they are back engaged again. Their school work is on a cloud network. “But now, if they forget their homework, they are behind the 8-ball,” Tillett said.

And gone too will be the days of excuses like, “the teacher lost my paper” and the “the dog ate my homework.”

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