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Morris Area school district considers digital devices for all students

MORRIS, Minn. - Can devices like iPads and laptops improve student learning? What would it look like for every student in the Morris Area School District to have a digital device in the classroom?

These are questions that members of the district technology committee have been pondering as they worked towards a vision for where the district should go next.

At a work session with the Morris Area School Board last week, members of the committee shared their proposal for a digital learning initiative that would put electronic devices into the hands of nearly all students in the district.

This was the first time the school board viewed the proposal, which Superintendent Scott Monson emphasized was still under review within the district.

“This is more of a process, not an event,” said Superintendent Scott Monson. “I think this is the beginning of a proposal that can come forward to you as a school board in the near future.”

To find out the benefits and challenges of a one-to-one initiative, members of the technology committee visited several schools including Fargo North, Lake Park Audubon, Lake View, West Central Area and Wheaton.

“We did recognize that there was no one size fits all, perfect plan out there,” said Lien.”There is no one school district that’s got the entire solution laid out perfectly. Every district looked at the resources that they had available, looked at the needs they wanted to address and drafted a plan that addressed those needs.”

The proposal the committee presented suggests three types of technology for Morris Area:

one classroom set of tablets per grade for kindergarten through third grade,individual tablets with keyboard for students in fourth through seventh grades, and

individual laptops for students in eighth through twelfth grades.

“We came up with what we thought would be the best of everything that we saw to fit the needs of our students and how the devices would be used at our school,” said second grade teacher Austin Miller, a member of the technology committee.

Miller said teachers in early elementary school the committee observed used tablets as an option to create “stations” or individualized learning in the classroom.

When students entered late elementary and middle school, they used tablets with keyboards to practice typing and do research for projects. But by the time students reached high school, they would need a device that was effective for producing projects, not just research, which is why the committee recommended laptops, Miller explained.

However, members of the committee emphasized that the focus of their plan is not on what specific devices to choose, but rather on the learning opportunities that a one-to-one initiative can provide.

“Our approach that we’re taking is not to just jump into an initiative, but take it from the teaching standpoint first – how are we going to instruct our students and then make the device fit that,” said Miller.

To make sure that teachers and students get the most from the project, the committee also strongly recommended hiring a full time digital integration specialist to show teachers how to use devices to improve learning, said Lien.

“This will not be successful without staff development,” concurred Miller.

Districts also benefitted from an online learning management system – a platform for teachers to create a digital classroom for content and resources.

The biggest challenges moving forward will be cost and human resources. The committee included an estimated average annual cost of about $248,000, which includes yearly costs like staff time and licenses as well as the ongoing costs of replacing and updating devices.

The proposal includes a three-year implementation timeline. One of the earliest initiatives will be to get devices into the hands of teachers and provide classroom sets of devices to experiment with – a recommendation that came from every district members of the committee visited, Lien said.

“If we’re going to ask our teachers to change their instruction, to make investments in these digital learning platforms, that takes a lot of time and a lot of resources,” said Lien. “We need to know that’s something we can count on in the future, not something that will be taken away when funding runs dry.”

Monson said the plan will be reviewed by the district finance committee as well as the strategic planning committee before it would return to the school board.