The Times West Virginian

August 21, 2013

Enthusiasm marks expanded use of technology in the classroom

Times West Virginian

— A major change in education is under way in Raleigh County.

All students in grades 2-12 will be assigned an iPad2 during the current school year. Kindergarten and first-grade students will share an iPad Mini with one fellow student, and all iPads will remain the property of Raleigh County Schools.

Superintendent Jim Brown, according to The (Beckley) Register-Herald, spearheaded the movement a year ago following a meeting with an Apple representative at a superintendent’s conference in Charleston.

“We’re thrilled to death to get started,” Brown said. “We truly believe it will change the face of our classrooms.

“Every day, we learn of a new tool we’ll be able to access using an iPad in the classroom. It’s really limitless.”

One reason behind the move is the reality that hard copies of textbooks are likely to be harder to get in coming years.

“This year, we will have our first electronic textbook, which will be our social studies,” Brown said. “All existing editions are in place (in other subjects); it’s not something we’ll undo. But as we move through each of the adoptions, it’s very much planned we will be using the electronic version.

“This will be a process we’ll be phasing in over a period of time, but I can tell you the days of having the hardback textbooks are going away quickly.

“Vendors cannot continue to provide both an electronic version and a hard copy, so as the trend starts to take hold nationally, vendors will shift to eventually providing electronic textbooks.”

Raleigh County Board of Education President Rick Snuffer said the current cost of the iPad program is approximately $135 per student. Funds were redirected from other sources — including the cost of textbooks — to pay for the project.

Of course, the presence of iPads in the classroom doesn’t guarantee success in education. Teachers and students, no matter the technology available, are always at the heart of the process.

There will be ongoing expenses. Textbooks don’t last forever; neither do computers and the technology associated with them.

Nevertheless, the Raleigh County program illustrates exciting possibilities and deserves continuing attention, from within the county and across the state.

“E-teaching tools can be adapted for individual students, but most importantly, they can be updated at a flick of a switch,” Diane W. Mufson, a retired psychologist, wrote in The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. “Textbooks are generally replaced on a five- to seven-year cycle, during which major scientific discoveries are made, countries change their borders and world leaders come and go. Imagine if you did not have access to new information for the past five years.”

Raleigh County teachers had extensive training before school got under way and will receive more during the year.

Brown expects “redefinition” of the classroom in the not-too-distant future, such as the ability to connect with students from around the world.

Most of today’s young people are familiar with technology by the time they begin school, so it’s natural that their education enables them to build on what they experience daily outside the classroom.

“Children today have never known anything but technology, so we have to look at new ways to engage them in the educational process,” Snuffer said. “They become more excited in the educational process through (iPad use).

“I think it will change the way we do education in Raleigh County.”

Success there — if iPad use enables more economical distribution of additional up-to-date educational material and leads to a more productive environment for students and educators — could also spark change in Marion County and throughout West Virginia.

It was announced during Monday’s Marion County Board of Education meeting that students would be testing online. We think that’s a giant step into the digital world for our county and we would hope that the board would consider other steps like Raleigh County.

Just a few weeks on the job, Chad Norman, administrative assistant of technology for the Central Office of Marion County Schools, has expressed a great deal of enthusiasm with progressive thinking when it comes to the use of technology in the classroom.

“We want to move forward to grow Marion County technology,” he said. “We want to have the best technology for our teachers and our students in the state of West Virginia in a short amount of time. We’re going to bring that same enthusiasm and that same pride to this job.”

We encourage Marion County to look deeper into “pilot” programs that incorporate technology like putting an iPad in each student’s hands.