The new one-to-one learning initiative approved by the R-XIII Board of Education late last month opens the world as the curriculum for St. Clair students as well as for teachers and the community.
The initiative will put a digital device in the hands of every junior and senior high school student and will allow for access of information available at numerous and almost limitless sources besides textbooks.
“The objective is to provide digital learning to occur between the teachers and students,” Superintendent Mike Murphy said. “We will provide information to be at our fingertips.”
The cost to initiate the program — $431,000 — was approved by the board of education as part of the 2013-14 budget. The money will be used to purchase 1,400 Google Chromebooks at a cost of about $300 per unit.
Google Apps for Education, a cloud-based system, will be used. Murphy said the program is more than a search engine. He also said the program has no cost to use.
“The web is the best platform for information,” he said. “When you think about the web and all it allows us to do, it extends learning beyond the classroom and provides nearly unlimited learning opportunities.”
The key is wireless connectivity.
“It will provide learning anytime, anywhere on any device,” Murphy said. “It can engage everyone in the community. It can bring technology into homes that never have experienced it. It allows for a dynamic learning environment.”
The students and teachers will experiment with the tablets starting in January. Murphy is hoping for full implementation at the start of the 2014-15 academic year.
Before the budget was approved, the board and Murphy went through a detailed discussion about the one-to-one concept.
“Our district will employ the first generation of one-to-one computing in the spring of the 2013-14 school year,” Murphy said. “This provides the opportunity for wireless connectivity at home and school and for students and staff to communicate.”
The one-to-one digital learning will be implemented in four phases, with the first being informational that will continue through October. From that point through the end of the first semester, lesson design and detailed planning for the second semester will continue.
All teachers will be trained.
“We certainly want to ease any tension in the community with what we want to accomplish with this,” Murphy told The Missourian. “This is all about devising methods to experience learning with 21st century technology.”
In January after the Christmas break, the district’s older students will receive and use their devices during the second semester as part of the third phase. At the end of the upcoming school year, the devices will be collected and the program tweaked however necessary.
The full implementation then is planned for the following fall as the fourth phase.
Murphy said the district has not figured out all the answers to questions surrounding the learning format, including how things specifically will work if a home does not have Internet access. But, the district has been and continues to work hard at putting all those pieces together.
“It will take us time to get where we want to be with this,” the superintendent said. “There will be steps of growth. Connectivity is the key, and we’ve been working on that as a district for some time.”
The R-XIII school district now is a wireless environment. That means the hard-wired computers in the school still will work but the 1,400 Chromebooks simultaneously will connect students to information.
Students will be able to access that same information in the same way at home with the Chromebooks as well as with other computers and smartphones. If Internet access isn’t available or affordable, there will be “hot areas” in the community where free access can be gained.
“We’re designing this for students and teachers to be able to do things in both the school and home environment,” Murphy said. “Even if the school building doors are locked, the connectivity window will be open.
“We will learn how to design opportunities for student learning in a 24/7 environment.”
Some initial rules and regulations will be in place. Additional policies and procedures will be developed as the concept takes shape.
Murphy and incoming Assistant Superintendent Nadine Myers, who just wrapped up her stint as principal at St. Clair Elementary School before moving to the central office as of Monday, helped explain the concept to board members during their June meeting.
“This will be aligned to our common core standard,” Myers said. “It will, among other things, create more consistency within the district.”
Teachers will use the technology so their lesson plans, assignments, worksheets and even tests are electronic, gradually diminishing the use and cost of paper. Students will access material through a portal with the plan to be able to log on at school or home.
Each teacher and student will receive a gmail account that will be used with the initiative.
“The capability is enormous,” Murphy said. “But the key element to it is connectivity. We will attempt to truly engage the teacher and student on the digital highway.
“We know it all won’t happen in six months, but we feel we can migrate toward it.”
Students will be able to access appropriate lectures and information pertaining to St. Clair’s curriculum from around the world. Teachers will facilitate that curriculum through their lesson plans.
“It goes back to consistency,” Myers said. “Teachers will be able to take the district’s curriculum and adapt it to their lesson plans. That curriculum can be tweaked, modified, added to ...”
In addition, students and teachers will be able to communicate better in and out of the school day.
“The potential is massive,” Murphy said.
As far as security, Murphy said using the program “will be as secure as Google itself.” He also said viruses should not be a problem.
The district will control what is viewable on the devices, including the “ability to manage You Tube,” he said.
Murphy said the initiative has the full support of the district’s information technology department.
“We’re very excited about this,” he said. “We’re very pleased with the school board’s level of support and confidence to move this forward. It’s critical we engage our students with 21st century skills of digital learning as we prepare them for today’s and the future’s world.
“When we talk to the students about this, we see the sparkle in their eyes as well as some level of disbelief that we’re actually doing this. When we pull it all together and blend it with our vision of education, it could transform the district.”
Murphy said it is essential the district be leaders in this new age of digital learning.
“Every student we have in our schools was born after the invention of the Internet,” he said. “We have to remember that when we think about who we are educating. We have to be a part of the process to create the digital citizen.
“And what better way to engage student learning than to engage them in the environment they’re growing up in. Yes, we have to plan appropriately. But this is not like putting a textbook in a PDF format and giving it to the student. The potential exists to create rich and vibrant lessons that use everything we have available to educate our students. This provides a digital learning environment while protecting the traditional learning environment.”
Currently, St. Francis Borgia Regional High School in Washington is using digital learning in its classrooms.
Patrons within the district will be hearing more about the initiative in the coming months as part of the first phase.