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Clark-Pleasant bucking tech trend

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By August, three local school districts will have spent more than $2 million to buy iPads and laptops for more than half of the county’s high school students, but one of the largest school districts won’t continue the trend.

Clark-Pleasant schools can’t afford to buy laptops or tablets for all of its roughly 1,300 high school students. And since most students likely already have their own smartphones, computers or tablets, technology director Jim White wants school officials to consider whether students should be required to bring their own devices to school to complete assignments in and outside class.

The requirement is realistic, given that about 90 percent of Clark-Pleasant’s fifth- and sixth-graders have Internet access at home, and about 64 percent of those students have their own smartphones, White said.

“There’s already been a lot of money spent by parents to put devices in those homes,” White said.

This school year, Center Grove, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson and Franklin schools have either handed out devices or committed to buying them for at least their high school students. Center Grove and Indian Creek spent about $1.7 million total for iPads for their students, and Franklin recently partnered with the Franklin Redevelopment Commission, which is paying $500,000 for Chromebooks for all high school students.

At Indian Creek, sixth- through eighth-graders also got iPads; and this fall Center Grove will buy them for eighth-graders.

Property tax caps limit the amount of money Clark-Pleasant, the county’s second-largest school district, can collect to pay for technology costs, including computers, software and employees. White isn’t counting on Clark-Pleasant reaching an agreement with the city of Greenwood to help pay for devices for students. So the school district can’t afford to buy thousands of devices for its students.

Last school year, Clark-Pleasant purchased 120 tablets with a grant for a new course that combined biology and computer applications, but school officials quickly found the tablets didn’t work well with the new course.

The tablets operated well with biology lessons but not for computer applications lessons that included assignments with Microsoft Office. At the time, Microsoft Office didn’t work well with tablets, and so assignments that involved spreadsheets in Excel were difficult for students to complete, White said. About 60 of those tablets are now kept at Whiteland for students to use for in-class research, and the other 60 are being used throughout the school district.

“Unfortunately, not everything you try works the way you intend. And that’s the reality,” White said.

After White saw the tablets weren’t working well in the biology and computer applications course, he stopped trying to find ways to buy more devices for students. Instead, he started researching what kinds of devices students already owned.

White surveyed Clark-Pleasant’s 971 fifth- and sixth-grade students this school year, and nearly 900 of those students participated in some part of the survey. What he found was that most students already have access to the technology schools want them to use.

For example: 823 students out of 901, or 91 percent, have Internet access at home. Out of 894 students, 735, or 82 percent, have their own cellphone. And about 77 percent of the students who have cellphones have smartphones.

“Mom and Dad are paying for a lot of data packages,” White said.

White also asked the students about the kinds of computers or other devices they have at home. More than 600 students said they had desktop and/or laptop computers, and many of the students surveyed also have tablets or e-readers at home.

White hasn’t surveyed the middle or high school students yet, though that could happen next school year. If most of the students at the middle and high schools also have their own devices, then the school district doesn’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for laptops or tablets, White said.

High school students already have the option to bring their own tablets and laptops to use in class with their teacher’s permission, and the school district hasn’t made any decisions about whether to require students to supply their own technology.

If that is required, students whose families can’t afford their own devices can use the tablets and other computers the school district already has, White said.

Because Whiteland students all use different devices now, some teachers have struggled to create lessons that all students can use with their devices. A PowerPoint presentation or video lecture posted online, for example, may load differently on an iPad than on a Samsung tablet or a laptop. To solve that problem, teachers will have to continue to learn more about what each device can do and the kinds of lessons and assignments that work well on all kinds of technology, White said.

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