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School districts struggle with technology costs


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Students learning to use tablets and laptops in class may have to go back to using paper and pencils full time unless local schools find more money for new technology.

This year about 120 students at Whiteland Community High School were given tablet devices to use for the high school’s newly combined biology and computer applications course. The tablets allow students to use the Internet instead of textbooks for in-class research, and they can take quizzes electronically, Clark-Pleasant technology director Jim White said.

White purchased the tablets last year after Clark-Pleasant received a grant of nearly $100,000 from the state. He bought the tablets for about a fourth of this year’s freshmen, but already was thinking about what kind of technology the school could offer them as sophomores.

White didn’t want students to start learning how to use the tablets in class in ninth grade and then not have the devices as 10th-graders. But Clark-Pleasant also has a limited amount of money it can spend on technology and other devices because of property tax caps, which limit how much the school district can collect in property taxes.

PLUGGING IN

Here is a look at the technology Whiteland Community High School has, and what administrators and teachers want:

What they have: 120 tablet devices for freshmen in the high school’s combined computer applications and biology course

What’s coming: Technology director Jim White is looking for ultrabooks — a cross between a tablet and a laptop — that next year’s sophomores would be able to use in class.

Other school districts: Franklin plans to allow students to bring their own computers, laptops or other devices to use in class, likely after spring break. Before then, teachers need to be trained in the best way to use the devices in class.

This year White has enough saved to purchase between 30 and 60 ultrabooks — a cross between a laptop and a tablet — for sophomores to use next year. But he’s not sure where money to buy devices for the students as juniors and seniors will come from.

“It’s possible to maintain. It’s becoming more and more difficult to expand,” he said.

Clark-Pleasant is not alone. Franklin schools have a similar problem.

Property tax caps limit the amount of money the schools have to buy new computers. That’s partly why the school district hasn’t bought classroom sets of tablets, computers or other devices and instead has computer labs at each school, which are updated each year, technology director Matt Sprout said.

But he wants students to be able to use tablets and computers in class, and Franklin is considering allowing students to bring their own devices to use in class, starting after spring break. If students have their own devices they can use in class, that saves the school district spending tax dollars to buy new technology, he said.

Before Franklin students can bring their own laptops and tablets, teachers need to be trained on the best way to use them with their current lessons, Sprout said.

Whiteland students already can bring their own devices to class, but White wants to be able to provide tablets and computers in the classroom for students who can’t afford their own.

He also is concerned that some teachers could have a hard time designing lessons that work the same way on the different devices students could bring, including tablets, laptops and smartphones, which all have different manufacturers.

Teachers in Whiteland’s combined biology and computer applications class have learned when the tablets are helpful and when they’re not. They can get quizzes graded and back to students more quickly by using the technology, but most students can’t type a research paper on the device without dozens of typos, White said.

White originally planned to buy tablets for all of Whiteland’s roughly 420 freshman, but to do that the school district would have had to cover half the cost, or about $69,000.

Parents also raised concerns about Clark-Pleasant’s plan to make the computer applications and biology class required for students, and White decided to purchase tablets for the 120 students who elected to take the course.

The money White didn’t spend this year on tablets is what he plans to use next year for the ultrabooks, which likely would be used for a similar combined course. But the ultrabooks are about $900 each, three times as expensive as the tablets. So while freshmen can take the school-provided tablets home this year, the ultrabooks they get next year most likely would have to stay in the classroom, White said.

“Rolling out one-to-one for that type of thing is probably not a realistic scenario for us,” he said.

White isn’t sure what money will be available to buy devices for the students once they become juniors.

Sprout doesn’t like to use grants to pay for new technology because the grants typically last for just one year. But White already is looking for more grants he can apply for.

“Anything that would pop up, we certainly would (apply),” he said.

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