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Digital learning: to stay or go

Board discusses future of tech in schools

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 9:31 a.m. CST
Caption
(Photo provided)
Barrington High School Senior Jake Herb and Project Lead the Way (engineering) teacher Karuna Parmar lead a discussion using digital age learning and technology. Project Lead The Way has been a class at the high school for nearly four years.

BARRINGTON – While Barrington High School students are sharing the school’s technological accomplishments with the White House, district board members are making a tough choice – whether or not to move forward with digital age learning.

BHS-TV students recently submitted “The School of Tomorrow, Today” to the first-ever White House Film Festival in hopes of being invited to a special film screening in Washington D.C. mid-February.

The three-minute video features three digital BHS classes founded by the Barrington 220 Educational Foundation and made possible by continued district funding. These classrooms include interactive white boards, Mac computer labs and MacBook Airs.

“Mr. President, we hope you’ve enjoyed our homework assignment, and we look forward to earning some extra credit when we meet you in the fall,” BHS-TV President Peter Chung said. “We strive to lead the way in innovative technology for students, with dedication to instructing the student of tomorrow, today.”

As a BHS senior, Chung has seen technology evolve in his four years at the high school.

“Video editing takes hours, and our work has seen an uncalculated benefit from high-speed computers,” Chung said. “Rendering has really sped up.”

Last year, the district took a chance on digital instruction, leasing 600 Macbook Airs to pilot in the high school and 2,300 HP Netbook laptops to lend to every middle school student. A few iPads were put into the elementary schools.

Barrington 220 Educational Foundation members have donated more than $2 million to the school district for programs and technology since the foundation began 13 years ago, but the district is responsible for funding each program beyond start-up, keeping up with developments in technology.

The district also has brought in a team from Apple that is specialized in professional development to help educate teachers on how to effectively use technology. The computers were paid for by cutting spending and re-allocating funds. Instead of upgrading computer labs, for example, those funds were used to purchase new technology. The only payment required by parents is $40 insurance for the Macbook Airs and $20 for the Netbooks for the year. Comcast provides home Internet at $10 a month for families in need.

Planning the 2014-2015 budget at its Jan. 28 meeting, district board members were told to make a choice – either to further fund digital age learning, with all middle school students continuing to use their leased laptops, piloting iPads at the sixth grade level, and providing all high school students with a Macbook Air, or, to pause digital age learning, keeping the 600 leased Macbook Airs at the high school and eliminating laptops at the middle school level, Superintendent for Barrington 220 Educational Programs and Assessment Cindy Jaskowiak said.

Most board members agreed instructional technology is crucial for learning.

“It’s a big-ticket item,” said Joe Ruffalo. “It’s not cheap, but I think we are behind with digital learning, and it would benefit the largest spectrum of kids in our schools. It’s not going anywhere. It’s the way things are moving.”

Board member Wendy Farley agreed digital age learning is a priority within reason.

“Let’s look at the big picture,” Farley said. “What are our priorities? I think it’s more important for a kindergarten teacher to have a smaller class size than it is for her class to have iPads.”

If the district does go forward with digital age learning, board members said the venture would in no way be cost neutral. Instructional technology brings recurring costs, such as leasing contracts – estimated to increase over the next few years.

Jaskowiak said if digital age learning is given the green light by the school board, it would cost anywhere from $400,000 to $800,000 next year, and purchases must be made by early spring.

Discussing options, Barrington 220 Superintendent Tom Leonard mentioned previous action taken by the Indian Prairie School District, which serves Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield.

“Indian Prairie raised their class sizes, within guidelines, to afford technology,” Leonard said. “They had to decide which option would help students learn more – technology or a small class.”

Farley questioned whether the district needs to proceed with Apple products because of their reliability, or explore a less expensive option.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Farley said. “That’s the part I’m struggling with.”

The digital age learning conversation is ongoing and will continue at the next school board meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 18 at Barrington High School, 616 W Main St. For information, visit www.barrington220.org.

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