eSN Special Report: Promising Technology Practices

Roby Independent School District, Roby, Texas

The sleepy little town of Roby made national headlines two years ago when 43 local residents won a $50 million lottery jackpot (Teacher Michelle Terry’s husband was one of the winners.) But in the future Roby may be known for the excellence in the technology advances in their public school system. The town’s lastest gamble: Spending money on technology. The payoff: well-trained high school graduates.

When I first visited Roby ISD in 1986 there was relatively little modern technology in the classrooms. Scattered about was a sprinkling of Apple IIe computers and a lab full of electric typewriters. When I went back in 1994, things had improved slightly with a small elementary lab of Macintosh LC II models and some slow purebred IBM computers in the high school lab. Internet connectivity was limited to several standalone PCs using 14.4 modems.

Fast forward to late summer 1998 and you would not recognize the Roby school system as being the same tiny little West Texas school district. A building grant from the state allowed them to build a large and beautiful modern elementary building in 1997. In 1998 another state grant from the TIF board (Telecommunication Infrastructure Fund) paved the way for thirty new PCs, a network fileserver, Cisco router, digital modem, and T1 phone service.

The 300 students and 30 teachers now utilize a high speed T1 internet connection on well over 100 modern multimedia PCs running on a Novell network. Internet drops festoon the school with two hookups in every classroom. A large high school lab and a huge elementary lab provide students with nearly 50 computers online to the Internet and equipped with lots of modern software.

Roby educator Barbara Martin has worked tirelessly for the past few years laying the groundwork for a modern school district that is the envy of many larger districts. The administration and community have supported her efforts by placing a huge emphasis on technology. Martin has been seen as a valuable asset in her school as a technology coordinator and classroom teacher and Roby ISD officials have extended her free periods to where she has more time to work troubleshooting and training teachers.

Here’s a breakdown on some of the goodies Roby ISD has in its arsenal of technology tools:

Hardware: 110 fully networked PCs running Windows 95 or Windows 98. Over 90 are Pentium or Pentium II computers running at 166 Mhz or faster. Seventeen older 486 PCs were relocated to Ron Smith’s high school English classes to use for creative writing and internet research.

In the high school computer class of Michelle Terry there are 17 new Pentiums running Windows 98 at 266 Mhz with 64 MB of RAM. For printing she has two networked HP color inkjets, and an HP laserjet printer. An HP color scanner sits by the printers.

In Barbara Martin’s classroom is a digital satellite receiver linked to a 3 meter satellite dish outside the building. At present there aren’t any distance learning courses being offered, but grant applications are in the works for a full-fledged distance learning lab.

For digital imagery, several Sony Mavica cameras are being used by the teachers and journalism staff. They are enjoying the ease of use of these cameras which utilize a floppy disk for file transfers, but later on they plan to upgrade to the higher quality megapixel cameras.

Software: As impressive as the hardware acquisitions are to the casual visitor it is the software available to students that is a real exemplary practice at Roby ISD. Roby ISD is a model district to be admired not only for their diligence in obtaining high quality software, but also in their firm adherence to copyright laws on software.

Barbara Martin insists that every Windows machine has a clear and documented license, especially machines which were upgraded from earlier versions of Windows. Using DIR (Department of Information Resources), a state agency that obtains cooperative buying agreements with computer vendors, Martin bought individual upgrade licenses of Windows 95 and 98 for $41 each and Office 97 for $46. For the older machines in Ron Smith’s room which didn’t have enough room for Office 97, she bought Word 97 for $25 each.

Every Pentium machine in the district has Office 97 and every teacher has a copy of Print Artist by Sierra. Roby has a site license for Accelerated Reader and runs it on virtually every computer for testing purposes (library circulation increased 900% in the first year after beginning Accelerated Reader).

The CD-ROM server runs a network copy of World Book 1998 which was purchased at an excellent bargain price of $249. Also on the tower is SIRS for magazine research, Athena card catalog for student book searches, a nice science encyclopedia called UXL Science Version 1.0 ($400 for the network version), and a typing program called Keyboard Mastery.

In the 28 station elementary lab there are 28 copies each of Jumpstart Kindergarten, 1st Grade, and 2nd Grade CDs. There are also 8 boxes of the 5 disk Trail Adventure series from The Learning Company (Oregon Trail, MayaQuest, Africa Trail, Yukon Trail, and Amazon Trail). There is also a full set of Davidson’s excellent Math for the Real World CD. Eight copies of Living Books round out the CD selections. Soon they will order more Jumpstart disks and some reading software.

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