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Technology upgrade: LP-A schools expands laptop program

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Spurred on by burgeoning enrollment numbers that have district officials considering conversion of its elementary computer lab space into classrooms, Lake Park-Audubon Schools is forging ahead with plans to expand its one-to-one laptop deployment program.

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Starting in the fall, every LP-A student in grades 3-12 will be provided with a laptop computer; in the past, only high school students had been granted that privilege.

“Our current laptop deployment in grades 9-12 has been providing huge benefits to our students,” explained LP-A technology coordinator Bob Henderson.

“With expanding space concerns at the elementary, and a desire to better serve our middle school students, we are expanding the laptop deployment to benefit those students as well.”

In addition, each kindergarten, first and second grade classroom will be receiving 10 laptops, for use as a “center-based technology station,” Henderson continued.

The kindergarten, first and second grade classrooms will be receiving touchscreen laptops, which will “allow students who may not have computer experience to not be at a disadvantage,” he explained.

Acer C720P Touchscreen Chromebooks were chosen for their simple-to-use interface, focus on web content and manageability, which will allow students to be able to practice their reading, math, spelling and more, in small groups rather than all at once.

“That is something we will be watching pretty closely,” Henderson added. “Expanding (the one-to-one deployment) for K, 1 and 2 is a possibility if it’s determined that it’s needed.”

Each student in grades 3-8, meanwhile, will be receiving a new, Microsoft Windows-based Lenovo X140E notebook. This model was chosen for its greater durability and built-in features — with no moving parts save a single cooling fan — which make it ideal for daily student use.

“They’re built like tanks,” Henderson said. “When we were looking at devices for some of our younger students, durability was paramount.”

The high school students, meanwhile, will continue to use the same Dell e6400 laptops that were distributed to them at the start of the 2012-13 school year; laptops used by seniors one year are re-deployed to ninth graders at the start of the next.

While there might be some dissension in the ranks caused by the fact that the high school students will be using laptops that are two years older than those distributed to the younger grades, Henderson pointed out that they have had the use of them for two years when the other grades have not had the same opportunity.

Once again, the district will be leasing the laptops from CDI Computers, which has been providing the Dell models for the high school.

“Our relationship with CDI Computers has been fantastic in the past, and I have no doubt that will continue in the future,” Henderson said.

The addition of these 450 new laptops will represent a $371,000 investment by the district over the four-year term of the lease — on top of the amount already spent on the lease of 225 laptops for the high school two years ago (which was also for four years total).

“Altogether that’s about $130,000 to $140,000 a year, just for the lease,” Henderson said.

Additional monies have also been spent toward ensuring that the district’s wireless Internet capabilities, both at the high school and the elementary, were sufficient to handle the increased usage.

A total of $15,000 was spent on upgrading the elementary building’s wireless technology, while the technology was built into the new high school when it was constructed two years ago, Henderson noted.

Fortunately, the laptop lease does include a warranty that provides for the replacement or repair of machines that are damaged or rendered unusable through common, everyday use.

If a machine is damaged through student abuse or negligence, however, any repairs that can’t be done in-house must be paid for by the students themselves, Henderson said.

“They are charged for the cost of replacement parts or in extreme cases, a replacement unit,” he added.

An orientation session is done at the start of classes in the high school each fall, to help students learn how to properly care for and maintain their laptops. Those who are in the second year of usage were only required to attend a “refresher” course this fall, Henderson added.

For the younger students, “we are putting together a curriculum to help them learn,” Henderson said, both about how to maintain their laptops as well as some basic knowledge of computer usage.

Web-based instruction

With the more widespread laptop deployment, the LP-A district is also moving toward “a much heavier integration of digital content” into its classroom curriculum at all grade levels, Henderson noted.

Starting in the fall, the district will gradually transition toward providing online access to as many learning resources and daily classroom assignments as possible — both on school grounds, and off.

Using the online learning management system known as Schoology, more and more classroom lessons and related resources will be made available in a digital format, which can be accessed from any Internet-capable device, whether it be a laptop or desktop computer, tablet, or even a smart phone.

“That was one of our main goals, to make this information device agnostic,” Henderson said.

The new technology can also make learning easier than before in certain instances, he added. As an example, he explained, a student who struggles with reading but has a much easier time with auditory lessons can highlight a section of text on a page, right click on it, and the text will be read aloud by the computer.

“Before, we might have needed to use a para (professional) to do that,” Henderson said — which means that the assignment could only have been done in school.

The ultimate aim, he added, is to make it so students can do their assignments in school, at home, or on the road — and can turn in their work from “anywhere that they have Internet access.”

“We’re working very closely with the teachers to train them on this as well,” Henderson said.

Right now, the only real limitation on this technology is that not all textbooks and classroom materials are currently available in digital form.

“We are at the mercy of the publishers,” Henderson said. “For many of the more advanced courses, digital textbooks are fully available, but for our younger kids, they are not.

“Just like any other change, this will be an ongoing process,” he added.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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