At the beginning of this school year, all of the district’s teachers and students received an Asus tablet. Teachers will spend a year working with their tablets in preparation for the fall of 2014, when students will receive theirs. Students will take their tablets home, use them instead of textbooks, and will also take state tests on the devices.
District leaders identified an experiential gap throughout the district, said Central USD Superintendent Mike Berg.
“That’s defined as the life experiences that kids have before they enter school,” he said. “Having or not having technology at home is a very significant impediment to kids who are trying to compete with other kids who have had that.
“We want to close that experiential gap for kids, and it’s a way to better engage kids—it’s a tool,” Berg said. “The truth is that some teachers struggle significantly to deliver differentiated instruction for students with different learning abilities and different learning levels. This is a tool with adaptive software that allows the technology to assist the teacher and reach various levels of student learning.”
This year, every teacher and instructional support staff member, including administrators and coaches, have an Asus tablet in hand and are going through a full year of professional development. Next year, the district’s 15,000 students will receive their own tablets.
Central USD is working to abandon printed textbooks, and eventually digital textbooks, in favor of giving students the skills and resources necessary to locate information that supports learning goals.
To enable that, the district partnered with AT&T to offer 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity to ensure universal access throughout the district. The company is auditing school communities to ensure that signals are strong enough to provide adequate support and speeds for devices. Every device has 4G connectivity and operates on AT&T’s 3G/4G network.
And although students do not yet have their devices, the district has updated buildings with fiber optics running to buildings and wireless access points in every classroom, with multiple access points in larger communal areas.
“We’ve calculated that we have enough to carry the load,” Berg said. “We have that 4G parallel system, so that in the event our Wi-Fi isn’t as strong as need be, the devices can default to 4G, or from 4G to Wi-Fi.”
“Preparing for this type of transition is a lot of work” said Kevin Carman, AT&T’s Education Segment Marketing director. “The way Central is doing it is a great model—they have a vision and they have buy-in. It’s a multi-year plan that encompasses the technology side and the instructional side, and it’s bringing traditionally separate groups together.”
Approaching the initiative with a plan, and not focusing on a device, is key, Carman said.
(Next page: A Canadian secondary school rolls out Samsung School)
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