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Out with the old

Bill aims to cycle new tech into classrooms

Posted: February 21, 2012 - 12:02am

Technology permeates every aspect of everyone's job. From the heads-up displays on Boeing 787 Dreamliners, to the high-powered Hamilton water jets used in Allen Marine's catamarans, the pump running Dick Cheney's heart to the phone that doubles as an arcade for Angry Birds. Computers helped formulate the recipe for shampoo and the expanded-vinyl-acetate that cushions running shoes. Computers are in cash registers and $10,000 refrigerators. Student's cell phones, often stowed during class, are more powerful than the computers offered in school labs up to the late 1990s.

Technology is pervasive in everyday life and, if used wisely, is beneficial. So too can technology benefit teaching and learning, according to Carl Rose, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards and Bob Whicker, director for the Consortium for Digital Learning from their testimony to the House Education Committee on House Bill 242 on Monday.

However, Whicker said sometimes the novelty of technology clouds an important issue.

"I'd rather just ban that word. We're just taking about teaching and learning in a modern age," Wicker said.

Teachers need to teach with this technology to prepare students for their future, he said.

HB 242, introduced late last year by Wrangell’s Republican Rep. Peggy Wilson, is intended to provide seed money to school districts to start a purchasing and replacement program for technology in classrooms. It establishes what the sponsor calls a “digital learning funding factor.”

The bill would multiply the current base student allocation by a factor of 1.005. The state’s base student allocation for fiscal year 2012 is $5,680.

Though the school district has used iPads so far for one-to-one tech learning, the bill would leave the final decision of what tech to adopt up to each district and even each classroom.

Rose said technology changes fast, so it would not be prudent to put limits on what districts are allowed to adopt.

“In 2006 we had no idea what to expect in the years ahead,” Rose said. “I think we can expect the same thing going forward.”

However, the consortium typically plays a role in the decision making process, Rose said.

“We want to get them up and running and assist them when necessary,” Rose said.

Whicker told the House committee his company consolidates orders among several districts to find good deals and to take advantage of economies of scale.

The consortium is also building a database of educational apps on iTunes U "so that teachers can get it on their iPads," Whicker said.

Whicker said a current project to get iPads into the hands of third-grade students was launched with an aggressive timeline.

"We wanted to make sure we had a pretty good idea of what was going on," Whicker said. “Have the iPads changed teachers' instruction?” Whicker asked. "I'd say the answer is ‘yes,’" Whicker said. "We're seeing change and we're seeing teachers want the change."

The legislature funded The Consortium for Digital Learning several years ago. The Consortium is operated by the Alaska Association of School Boards.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, asked Rose and Whicker to consider the smaller, cheaper iPod Touch, also from Apple Inc. He said the relatively inexpensive device can perform like an iPad and get into more student hands for the same price. He said a vital component of educational technology is the students’ ability to take it home.

"Your thought pattern is my thought pattern," Wicker responded. He said the iPad program was so rapid, they did not get a chance to prepare the tablets for safety and internet access controls. And they didn’t know the robustness of the glass and batteries.

"We're still kind of seeing what's going to happen" with the glass and batteries.

Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, said his 11-year old keeps him up to date on technology.

“I'm sold on the advantages of tech in education,” Feige said.

He asked Rose if the 1.005 multiplier was enough to fully fund the program.

"Are we throwing buckets of water on a fire when we need a fire hose?" Feige asked.

“It’s small enough to get (legislators’) arms wrapped around it,” Rose answered. “(I) didn't want to be rejected because it was too much.”

The bill was heard and held in the House Education Committee. It is also a referred to House Finance Committee.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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