My turn: Prepare our kids for the future: invest in digital learning

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2010

If you had a chance to improve your child's future, why wouldn't you? South Dakota asked the same question. So have 28 school districts in Alaska. The future they have seen isn't always crystal clear, but one thing is for sure - the future will be digital.

That's why the Association of Alaska School Boards created the Consortium for Digital Learning in 2006. Through investments of public funds over the last three years, the consortium has enabled more than 12,000 Alaska students across the state to experience education with a laptop computer at their fingertips.

With that investment, the State of Alaska ranks 15th in the country- behind South Dakota, Maine and Wyoming in the top three - in the percentage of schools with 1-to-1 laptop technology, according to a recent survey by Project RED, Revolutionizing Education.

Clearly, Alaska has room to improve; and AASB is asking the Legislature for additional funds to bring the future to more classrooms.

Since implementing digital learning, many of the 28 participating school districts have reported dramatic changes - students are more engaged, exhibit fewer behavior problems and show improved work habits. Digital learning makes our classrooms more relevant because in the world of work, nearly every profession is permeated with laptop computers and mobile devices. Static computer labs that offer limited access to students are out of sync with the applied learning our students crave and deserve.

AASB holds the 28 school districts accountable for meeting pre-determined goals for digital learning. The pilot project, which we hope to expand statewide, addresses not only hardware, software and wireless networking capability, but also staff professional development, technical support and training and accelerated in-state equipment repair.

Independent evaluation of the Consortium for Digital Learning has shown that the greatest challenge the program now faces is one of capacity. Urgent requests from districts and schools to expand have outstripped our ability to keep up demand without continued legislative support.

AASB believes that an investment in digital learning fits perfectly into other educational initiatives, such as Governor Parnell's proposed scholarship program. The expanded course offerings and content of virtual schools envisioned by Commissioner of Education and Early Development Larry LeDoux will require broader digital capabilities in many of our schools.

As a former businessman, I know of the investment of capital, creativity and effort it takes to successfully bring a good idea to market. Why wouldn't we do the same as we prepare our kids for a future in a very competitive world?

• Carl Rose is the executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, a statewide non-profit organization representing 53 school districts in Alaska.

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