By Becky Harvey
OXFORD - The School District of Oxford’s digital conversion conversation has begun. The school department last week hosted a panel of experts in the fields of technology initiatives and digital conversions. As Oxford moves toward digital books and a future with iPad apps for learning, the input from other school systems that have gone through the upgrade (so to speak) is valuable. Thursday’s meeting offered the chance for Oxford residents to be involved in the planning. Though no decisions were made this night, information was given and questions were answered.
Grafton physics teacher, Jeremy Eschelbacher, explained that when children are engaged and interested in what they are learning, they are less likely to act out and therefore do more real learning. He began the discussion panel responses to the question of whether or not electronics in the classroom caused more distractions in the long run. Eschelbacher found that although there are always some students who always find a way to be distracted, these devices allow the majority of students to become more involved in learning and actually remain less distracted.
Tom Daccord, author of Best Ideas for Teaching with Technology: A Practical Guide for Teachers by Teachers Portable, stated that people need to acknowledge that the average student can take an iPad and use it as a media creation device. He believes it is so much more than simply a gateway to infinite information. He noted that when children take what they learn and create something with the new knowledge, it is a much deeper level of learning and understanding.
One of the big questions that needs to be raised is, “at what age should a system roll out a one-to-one program?” Also, ownership is another point that needs to addressed. Daccord claims that take home programs allow students to become more invested when they have devices “24-7.” When students only have access while at school, they often show less care and there is a higher rate of vandalism in the school-only access models.
Echelbacher spoke about his “flipped classroom” where he has students “learn” at home and “practice” in the classroom. He is turning the focus off of himself and onto the students, allowing him to find out how his students learn best and most effectively.
Discussion regarding finance, probably the most concerning to citizens, was passed off to Uxbridge High School Principal Tara Bennett. She stated that Uxbridge rolled the cost of the one to one iPad program into their new building costs. The actual cost is about $600 per student. Neil Trahan, the technology director for Oxford, noted that Oxford has not made a decision on the type of platform with which they will be going.
Schedules, report cards, student handbooks and the like are all now paperless in Northbridge, with the exception of a handful of students who refused the iPads or don’t have Internet access at home. In the same respect that teachers and administrators need to make accommodations to students in the paper and book world, accommodations need to be made in the digital world as well.
One highlighted issue that each professional on the panel acknowledged was the need for a sound tech structure to be in place prior to the rollout of such a program. Tara Bennett, principal of Northbridge High School said that they were lucky in that they were rolling out their new one-to -one initiative along with the opening of a new facility with all new networking capabilities. Everything they needed had been worked into the price of the new building costs.
The infrastructure is a chunk of technology that nobody gets to see. Despite this, said Mistler, it is the most important thing to have in place prior to starting the initiative. Eschelbacher said it is important to give the teachers the opportunity to fail without reprisal. This allows for really excellent and creative classrooms. Engvall suggested that Oxford send representatives to systems that already have one-to-one initiatives in place. Daccord ended with the statement that teachers need to learn to teach creativity in order to really get anything out of an iPad programs.
Neil Trahan fielded many questions, throwing them to the proper expert. By the end of the night, many Oxford residents had a better understanding of the program possibilities and of what questions should be raised to the Oxford School Committee prior to making a commitment to such a program. There is no timeframe as of yet, but like many school districts, Oxford’s has come to the conclusion that it must move with the times, which means they will be going digital sooner, rather than later.