Archived Story

Austin continues to embrace tech

Published 6:00pm Sunday, September 2, 2012

With new iPads at Woodson Kindergarten Center, Austin Public Schools is taking a big step technology-wise. The district is following a national trend introducing computer tablets into the classroom.

“We’re trying to determine what technology needs, what device is appropriate for what levels that needs to be accomplished,” said John Alberts, educational services director.

Alberts said putting iPads in Woodson classrooms made sense, as kindergartners are using apps and games to reinforce the alphabet and spelling. That doesn’t mean iPads will show up in classrooms around the district yet, though Alberts said school officials were looking at options to introduce tablets into classrooms based on where it would most improve learning.

Tablets are slowly but surely making their way into classrooms as more districts across the state and nation use them to teach technology and cut down on classroom expenses, which includes textbooks. Rochester Public Schools is looking to roll out one-to-one tablet use — meaning they’re providing a tablet for every student— over a three-year period, and Farmington and Hopkins Public Schools in the Twin Cities are adding iPads at a similar rate.

Several area districts are already moving toward one-to-one tablet use. South Central Education Consortium Director of Technology Jeff Oian said last month Grand Meadow Public Schools should have one-to-one technology for its students by the end of next year, while iPads are used at Southland Public Schools in grades 4 though 6 and 10, which should expand this year. Lyle Public Schools recently bought 30 iPads for use in the classroom, and may expand their iPad use in the coming school years.

But with great tablet use comes great responsibility, as many parents are concerned with giving students tablets which can break and have online capabilities. Schools often provide safeguards and programs on tablets to prevent students from getting into too much mischief, and each district has a policy when it comes to maintenance and broken tablets.

Grand Meadow Superintendent Jerry Reshetar said students in fourth- through eighth-grade will use tablets this year, and the district is busy crafting a policy for its use, as students may be able to take those tablets home. Crafting that policy is easier said than done, however.

“You have to take into account the liability for the tablet,” Reshetar said. Grand Meadow officials are tailoring their policy based off of previous examples and should have one created soon. In this way, students are going to be able to use tablet technology for schoolwork wherever they go, which should be a huge step in their education.

“We don’t want to limit kids, but we just need to establish how to best use [tablets],” Reshetar said.

Austin doesn’t have to worry about tablet policy yet, as Alberts said tablets and laptops will only go into classrooms where they’re needed.

“First and foremost, we’re going to always lead with ‘What is the value-add?” Alberts said. “What is it that we want the tool to do and then selecting the tool from there. We don’t ever want to make the mistake of selecting the tool first.”

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