GA law­maker wants schools to go dig­i­tal by 2020

The Standard Journal - - EDUCATION NATIONAL - By KATH­LEEN FOODY

ATHENS, Ga. ( AP) — Nearly 30 eighth graders bend over lap­tops dur­ing Karen Farnsworth’s Thurs­day morn­ing math class, rais­ing their hands for help as the teacher moves around point­ing to their screens or pro­vid­ing video links. In the sec­ond row, 13-year-old Yo­celin Ro­driguez glances at a ques­tion about find­ing the height of a shape be­fore grab­bing her pen­cil and mak­ing cal­cu­la­tions on a sheet of pa­per.

The com­bi­na­tion, Ro­driguez said, helps her learn con­cepts and then fig­ure out how to solve them. She prefers pa­per “to think through the process,” but likes the videos avail­able on the com­puter when she’s strug­gling.

All Ge­or­gia class­rooms will look like Farnsworth’s by 2020 if one state law­maker’s pro­posal makes it through the Leg­is­la­ture this year. State Sen. John Al­bers, a Roswell Repub­li­can, said the de­tails of his bill are still in the works but pledged not to force lo­cal school dis­tricts to cover all costs of mov­ing to dig­i­tal ma­te­ri­als.

Ed­u­ca­tors across the coun­try are mov­ing to­ward class­rooms based around tech­nol­ogy, and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion this week com­mit­ted more fund­ing to ex­pand high- speed In­ter­net ac­cess and pledged to con­nect 99 per­cent of stu­dents through their school or li­brary.

That could help solve one of the big­gest prob­lems for dis­tricts adopt- ing dig­i­tal ma­te­ri­als — ac­cess. Stu­dents need the ma­te­rial both at school and at home. If a com­mu­nity doesn’t have re­li­able In­ter­net ac­cess, mak­ing the switch doesn’t ben­e­fit stu­dents equally, said Doug Levin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the State Ed­u­ca­tional Tech­nol­ogy Di­rec­tor As­so­ci­a­tion.

Al­bers wants school dis­tricts to de­cide the best way for kids to use those ma­te­ri­als. Other states have opted for a va­ri­ety of lap­tops or tablets. Al­bers said he hopes to in­tro­duce the bill early in 2015.

“We need to have a goal,” he said. “Tech­nol­ogy can pre­pare out stu­dents for the business world, but it’s also the great equal­izer whether you live in a sub­ur­ban, ur­ban or ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment.”

Rep. Terry Eng­land, chair of the Ge­or­gia House’s ap­pro­pri­a­tions com­mit­tee, said he hasn’t heard any dis­cus­sion of how much Al­bers’ pro­posal would cost or what the state could af­ford. Eng­land said many law­mak­ers agree dig­i­tal ma­te­ri­als have ad­van­tages but dis­trict of­fi­cials will need time to phase out text­books and up­grade their build­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Other states have used the dead­line for­mat that Al­bers has in mind. Florida law­mak­ers, for ex­am­ple, passed a bill re­quir­ing that dis­tricts use at least half of their text­book bud­get on dig­i­tal ma­te­ri­als start­ing in 2014 and in­creas­ing ev­ery year. Mary Jane Tap­pen, the state depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive vice chan­cel­lor, said the goal isn’t to wipe out all pa­per or tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als but to urge more adop­tion.

The state faced some chal­lenges along the way, she said. Soft­ware track­ing stu­dents’ re­sults on quizzes or ex­er­cises had to com­mu­ni­cate with ex­ist­ing pro­grams. Florida dis­tricts strug­gled to get more free­dom from pub­lish­ers, mov­ing away from the tra­di­tional model of buy­ing text­books with ac­com­pa­ny­ing CD’s.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors at mid­dle Ge­or­gia’s Clarke County School Dis­trict made a sim­i­lar de­mand of schools — in­te­grate tech­nol­ogy into class­rooms by this year. The push was in­tim­i­dat­ing, Farnsworth said, but she now be­lieves that quizzes, videos and other ex­er­cises de­liv­ered by lap­tops held kids learn as much as pen and pa­per. It also helps par­ents get com­fort­able with new meth­ods for teach­ing math, the teacher said.

“It makes ev­ery­one’s life eas­ier, and it en­gages the kids who wouldn’t have been en­gaged oth­er­wise,” she said.

Sup­port­ers of adding more dig­i­tal ma­te­ri­als say stu­dents need to get ac­cus­tomed to learn­ing on a screen, not just be­ing en­ter­tained. As states de­velop new exams stu­dents will take on a com­puter, they will be more com­fort­able if they’re learn­ing dig­i­tally too, Levin said.

“For many years we were on au­topi­lot: You al­ways buy a text­book be­cause it’s in the bud­get,” Levin said. “Tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing peo­ple’s think­ing.”

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