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Technology initiatives show results in area school districts

May 3, 2014
 
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Fond du Lac High School seniors Sheahan Thomma and Kaylee Schwartz work on a spreadsheet during Cardinal Time. The district has provided high school students with Chromebook computers for two years. / Joe Sienkiewicz / Oshkosh Northwestern Media

One-to-one technology roll-out

The following is a breakdown of the roll-out for the Oshkosh Area School District’s planned one-to-one technology initiative:
2013-14

• Classroom technology purchased using existing budget across all schools and grade levels
2014-15

• Teachers provided with personal technology device (850 staff members at all schools and all grades)
• Wi-Fi infrastructure upgrades initiated at all schools
2015-16

• Students in grades 9 through 12 provided with personal technology (about 3,000 students)
• Servers and storage system replaced
• Wi-Fi infrastructure upgrades completed at all schools
2016-17

• Students in grades sixth through eight provided with personal technology (about 2,250 students)
• Network switch equipment upgrades initiated at all schools
2017-18

• Students in grades three through five provided with personal technology (about 2,250 students)
• Network switch equipment upgrades completed at all schools
2018-19

• Teachers provided with personal technology device (850 staff members at all schools and all grades)
• Cart-based technology replacement in kindergarten through second grade with one cart for each grade level
• Classroom technology replacement with location determined by age of equipment
• IP telephone system replaced
2019-20

• Wi-Fi and mobility infrastructure replacement initiated
• Servers and storage system replaced
• Students in grades nine through 12 provided with personal technology (about 3,000 students)
2020-21

• Wi-Fi and mobility infrastructure replacement completed
• Classroom technology replacement with location determined by age of equipment
• Students in grades six through eight provided with personal technology (about 2,250 students)
Source: Oshkosh Area School District Referendum for Learning Presentation

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FOND DU LAC — For Kiana Heimann, having her own school-issued Chromebook helped improve her grades and even get a reward for her efforts.

The 14-year-old Fond du Lac High School freshman said the district’s one-to-one technology initiative and the opportunities the program provides to students and teachers alike led to her parents getting her a television in her room at home because of her better grades. She attributes the improvement in her grades to more in-class help and feedback on assignments that the infusion of technology provides her and her fellow students.

“Last year, my grades weren’t that good; now I’m getting an A+ (in math),” Heimann said. “Last year I didn’t get the help I needed.”

Heimann is one of about 2,500 students at the school who have their own school-issued Chromebook as part of the program, which the district implemented in 2012.

“It was a little bit hard to get used to at first ... but I like it a lot,” she said.

In April, Oshkosh Area School District voters approved a referendum to increase the district’s revenue cap by $3.95 million a year for the next seven years. The district will use $1.45 million a year for a one-to-one technology initiative, providing each student and teacher in the district with a personal technology device, such as a Google Chromebook or an Apple iPad in a multi-year roll-out of the technology.

If all goes according to plan, all teachers will receive their own personal technology devices and all schools will get Wi-Fi upgrades starting in the 2014-15 school year, with a phased roll-out of devices for students starting with high school students the following year.

In Fond du Lac, the one-to-one initiative has allowed teachers to utilize a “flipped classroom” in which teachers record a video of a classroom-type lecture for students to watch at home. The next day, students work on their assignments in class, giving them an opportunity to ask questions and get extra help from the teacher during the school day.

“I love it,” said Andrew Villaire, a 17-year-old sophomore. “It’s much easier to learn math. ... I’d rather get my homework done in class.”

Kendra Seidel, who teaches math at the high school, is one of several teachers who makes use of the Chromebooks on a daily basis. She uses the flipped classroom concept in several of her classes and has noticed a difference in the way students learn and interact.

“I didn’t like it at first, but now I love it,” Seidel said. “I don’t want to go back to the traditional (classroom concept).”

For Diane Weider, a special education teacher who works with multiple classroom teachers — including those who use Chromebooks and the flipped classroom concept to enhance their teaching and those who do not — there is a clear difference.

“The kids in the class that I’m in with Kendra (Seidel) do so much better,” Weider said. “I know flip doesn’t work for everything, but it works for this. ... Many special ed students — they don’t have Internet at home.”

Coming to Oshkosh

Oshkosh school leaders have been watching what’s happening in Fond du Lac and other districts, such as Appleton, to help guide the upcoming roll-out of one-to-one technology, Deputy Superintendent David Gundlach said.

“We are not the first ones to do this; we’re closer to the last,” Gundlach said. Still, he noted that very few have the funds to implement the programs at the elementary- and middle-school levels like Oshkosh.

Across Wisconsin, nearly 40 districts have or previously had some sort of one-to-one technology program, Superintendent Stan Mack II said during the weeks leading up to the April 1 referendum, though state Department of Public Instruction officials said they don’t track that information.

In its public referendum presentations, officials offered the examples of Pulaski, Waunakee, La Crosse, Pewaukee, Waukesha, Stevens Point, Sun Prairie, Waupun, Sheboygan, Green Lake, Ripon, Neenah, Menasha, Appleton and Fond du Lac as districts with such programs.

The concept of a one-to-one technology program was part of Oshkosh’s strategic plan, which includes the development of a technology plan to address the equity of resources among all schools. A 29-member technology committee created such a plan, which the school board approved in December, that focuses on preparing students for a global world in which technology is seen as essential.

In their quest to gain for support of the referendum, officials have cited what they called several positive outcomes noted in a variety of studies and articles, including those highlighted by the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education at the University of Kentucky as well as Tech & Learning magazine. Those outcomes include positive effects on student achievement in the areas of literacy, science, exam scores, GPAs and writing scores; improvement in student engagement and a decrease in discipline issues; more engaging activities that stress teamwork and problem-solving skills.

With the passage of the referendum, school leaders now are gearing up for 2014-15 when they hope to implement the first phase of the program, including the installation of projectors, speakers, Smart Boards and newer, less-expensive projector-facilitated boards that can be used on any whiteboard in classrooms, Gundlach said.

During the next few weeks, district staff members will begin doing an inventory of the technology at each school and determining where upgrades are needed, including the probable addition of wireless access points to accommodate the increase in the number of devices running on the wireless network, he said.

Pros and cons

Weider said while the initiative has been successful in Fond du Lac, there are some negatives to each student having their own computer, especially during class.

“I get frustrated in some cases because kids are on the wrong sites — YouTube and social media,” Weider said. “It’s an excellent tool, but for some kids it is a detriment.”

Combating such use comes down to setting clear expectations and boundaries at the beginning of the term and using traditional classroom management techniques, said Jason Walter, a U.S. history and criminal justice teacher who wholeheartedly embraced the concept of an entirely digital classroom.

A willingness to make changes through trial and error is key, and sometimes deciding to use more traditional tools, such as pencil and paper, is more effective, he said.

“I jumped in on this thing pretty much head first; I had students actually taking notes on the computer, so it was a totally paperless environment, but I lost a lot of my kids’ (attention),” Walter said. “This is a tool, not a cure-all. It’s not a magic bullet. For me it’s a supplement, and I like to have a balance between new age and more traditional. A lot of kids will have those ear things in, and that irritates me. ... As much as things change, they stay the same. Those really are the exact same things I would do without computers.”

Using the Google Apps platform — an online-based set of applications similar to Microsoft Office products that are saved and stored remotely but allow multiple users access to open and edit documents simultaneously — allows teachers and students to more easily work together, even giving instructors the chance to give instant feedback as a student is working on an assignment.

“You’ll get an instant message that they saw your document,” said Cassidy Cahl, a 14-year-old freshman. “You get to talk to the teacher more. ... You can go at your own pace.”

A parental perspective

John Papenheim, a parent of a freshman and a senior, said the use of Chromebooks has allowed teachers to introduce more creativity into their lessons, making them more interactive and fun, but the technology is not without downsides.

“Kids need to learn these skills ... not just computer skills but also how to be polite in this social media world,” Papenheim said. “A lot of times, it’s difficult for me to discern whether my kids are doing their homework or just fooling around.”

Although cost to the district initially posed a concern, Papenheim said the investment has been worth the expense to the taxpayers.

“If it means they don’t need to update their textbooks quite as often because they can use the Internet for some of the supplemental (material), that’s fine with me,” he said.

Additional costs, such as those associated with maintenance, repairs and infrastructure upgrades, as well as funding for district technology coaches and technicians also pose a potential drawback for those who are critical of district spending, he said. In addition, the fact that not all families have access to high-speed Internet remains an ongoing concern, which could severely hinder a student’s ability to complete their assignments at home, especially if the teachers use an all-digital platform.

“There might be families that just can’t afford it,” he said.

Equality of access

In the Denmark School District, which started its program three years ago, school leaders encountered the same issue and worked out a deal with a wireless communications company to provide hotspot devices to families that didn’t have high-speed Internet, District Administrator Tony Klaubauf said. However, so few families used the technology, with some finding the service even slower than the Internet they already were using, that the district discontinued the service.

“As much as I thought that would be a real integral part of moving forward, it ended up not being a thing at all,” Klaubauf said.

The issue of equality also was what prompted Oshkosh leaders to advocate for district-provided devices rather than a “bring your own” concept, such as the one Denmark uses, Gundlach said.

In an attempt to level the playing field for students whose families might not be able to afford such devices, issuing each student a district-owned device makes sense, he said. In addition, not all programs will interface with all types of devices, therefore making a universal device for all students more attractive.

“We have several thousand devices that come into our network daily,” Gundlach said, noting the district already allows students to bring their own devices. “The problem we've run into is the devices are all across the board.”

Nathaniel Shuda: (920) 426-6632, nshuda@thenorthwestern.com or @onwnshuda on Twitter.

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