With a major shift to technology in classrooms, one question Union School District administrators are being asked is whether textbooks still have a place in the classroom, and if so, to what extent?
The textbook discussion took place Monday night at the board meeting after several parents complained to board members that their child didn’t have a textbook to bring home.
But while it’s true that many classrooms only have a classroom set of books, there should be plenty extra for every student who wants to bring home a book to do so, district officials stressed.
“We have communicated with principals to communicate with teachers that if we have classroom sets, we’ve always stressed that if we need additional books to check out, we will get them,” Superintendent Steve Bryant said.
If students don’t have a book, all they need to do is check one out, Bryant said.
The district started building its infrastructure to support more technology about four years ago, focusing on the addition of fiber optic lines and its capacity with the server.
With the addition of 250 new devices for the next school year, the Union School District will average 2.6 students per device.
During the 2013-14 school year, the district had 3.32 students per device.
It uses a multiple device platform, which Bryant said is an advantage for students because they learn to use various types of devices, including Chromebooks, Lenovos and iPad Minis.
Students also may bring their own device no matter the brand.
The ultimate goal is to have a 1:1 ratio, and though the district could purchase a device for each student, the district isn’t ready to take such a big step.
Teachers, Board Weigh In
Ron Sohn pointed out that in textbooks, teachers are limited to teaching what the writers of the book chose as the most important.
He suggested trying the more technology-based approach this year — with the understanding that books are available as needed — and if the district needs to update textbooks it can look to do so the following year.
Two middle school social studies teachers, Rob Rogers and Diane Bruns, spoke to the board about technology in their classrooms.
Both have a classroom set of Chromebooks.
“The possibilities for what a kid can do in class are pretty endless,” he said.
Bruns also has a cart of Chromebooks. She was concerned for students who don’t have Internet access at home.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure we supply resources to our kids,” she said, “if they don’t have access at home. Some may never have it.”
Bruns said she is not against technology, but wants to be sure the district is being cognizant of the district’s position as far as access. There needs to be a balance, she said.
Virgil Weideman, school board member, echoed her sentiments, noting that 40 percent of students don’t have Internet access or access to a computer outside of school.
Tammy Weinhold, board member, said she’s not as concerned about the lack of access, because all of the information can be put on their device (without Internet access).
Some textbooks do have web-based interfaces that would require access, Bruns noted.
“Transition is difficult,” Weinhold said. “But I do not want our students to be behind in technology and I’m afraid . . . we’re already behind.”
Weinhold said teachers need to be strong leaders to help move the district forward with technology.
She also thanked teachers for working to transition to more technology-based lessons.
Justin Tarte, director of curriculum and support services, supported technology, especially for those who don’t have access at home.
“I’d like to speak on behalf of the 40 percent, the 40 percent of our students who don’t have the same opportunities when they go home, who don’t have access to the same level of knowledge as some of the other kids when they go home. I think our job as educators is to inspire, to create hope, show opportunity and show possibility to our kids,” Tarte said.
“I think that’s even more of a reason we emphasize the use of technology in our classroom, because a lot of kids don’t have that access. Not that textbooks are inherently evil, but kids aren’t going to get opportunity and hope and possibility out of a textbook, and it’s our job to make sure they have those opportunities. If they don’t have it outside of school, we should make sure they have it inside of school,” he added.
Bryant noted that there is $340,000 budgeted for textbooks.
All building administrators said they have enough textbooks for classroom sets and for students to bring home as needed.