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LaRue can learn ins and outs of laptop initiative from other districts

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By Ron Benningfield

With the LaRue County Board of Education having passed the laptop initiative this month, those implementing the program can look at districts that already use laptops to learn from their successes and shortcomings.

McCracken County Schools in western Kentucky implemented the laptop initiative last year at three high schools. Superintendent Tim Heller said the program exceeded expectations.

The school board’s chairperson predicted that in four years or less students will access textbooks and related learning materials online, saving the district thousands of dollars in printed texts.

An independent review at the end of the first year showed outstanding teaching and learning taking place.

The review indicated several reasons for the initiative’s success and also included several recommendations for improvement that LaRue might carefully consider:

Success

• Administrators and teachers had a positive attitude in the mission of using computers in daily teaching.

• Students wanted to carry their laptops to class because the teachers had them use them in each of their classes.  All the teachers were on board with the program because they saw it as something that would benefit students.

• Students felt the laptops allowed them to be more creative and productive in class assignments.

• With students being able to transfer their homework to the teacher on computers, there were few instances of “lost” homework.

• Students who had questions about homework were able to communicate online with their teacher, even before and after school hours.

Recommended improvement

• Students need better training on how to find valid information among the myriads of data on the Internet. The report indicated many students are tricked into following advertisements which can lead to invalid information.

• To help students prepare for interactive Internet usage in the workplace, they should work together on projects outside the classroom.

• The schools and district should provide space on the Internet for students to publish and display their work.

• Technical and training staff should address teachers’ questions and needs in a timely manner. The report indicated teachers reported higher stress because of the workload.   

• All staff should help everyone understand why technology is essential to teaching and learning in the 21st Century.

Of the 2,170 computers purchased, eight were lost or stolen and 19 suffered damage or irreparable problems. The most common damage was cracked screens. LaRue County Schools’ insurance on the laptops covers accidental damage, such as the cracked screens McCracken County experienced.

Some information for this column was obtained from a Paducah Sun article by Bill Bartleman.

Mindset change

Tom Shelton, superintendent of Daviess County Schools that also have implemented a laptop initiative said adults will need to change their mindsets.

“This is about student learning and meeting the kids where they are to engage them in the teaching and learning process. It is not about adults as we are immigrants to their world,” Shelton said.

“We cannot let adult issues detract from a great learning opportunity for kids,” he continued. “We have to realize that to do this, we are moving away from an environment that we have created that is foreign to kids into an environment where we will feel like the strangers.”

Shelton noted that this change won’t be easy for the adults.

“We must keep the end in mind,” he said. “It is best for students and we should be the ones willing to go through change to benefit kids.”