The Hamilton County Board of Education has a goal of equipping all schools with 300 mgs of wireless Internet access by next year in order to integrate iPads in the education process.
Plans to accomplish this were presented to the board at a meeting of the technology committee Friday morning, led by Patty Kinsey, business systems analyst, and Superintendent Rick Smith.
This means that 53 buildings will have the capability to support the “1-1 Initiative,” so that every child, teacher and administrator will have an iPad on which to work. In order to do this, three things must happen. The infrastructure must be in place with all buildings wired with access points to support the large number of mobile devices. Teachers must be educated to use the tablets and equipment must be made available for every student.
The board considers the most important of the three elements to be professional development, because having equipment means nothing if it is not used effectively. “Technology is never going to be able to educate people” said Jonathan Welch, chairman of the board's technology committee.
Money in the form of a grant from the state of Tennessee was awarded to Hamilton County to beef up the infrastructure. The $1,392,000 received this year is currently being used for wiring the buildings to provide the access points. Paying for the bandwidth itself comes out of the general purpose budget for technology, not state funds.
It was explained that the 300 mg bandwidth that is needed can enter the building, but the access points must be accessible in order to make connections to operate each mobile device. Four temporary contract workers will be hired to expedite the work so it will be complete in all schools by June 30, 2014.
The least important component is obtaining the actual mobile devices. Price and technology change, it was stated. The tablets now being used are iPads, but there are multiple platforms that are less costly. Also, Superintendent Smith sees this factor as being a community responsibility. His vision is that the devices be contributed by those in the community that are able. As of now, the Rotary Club, the Benwood Foundation and Public Education Foundation have each committed to provide funding for some of the devices being used in I-Zone schools. The estimate is that about $500 is needed per student for other organizations to sponsor the effort. No student can be left behind - there must be a way to get tablets for each one to use, it was stated.
Another consideration is that some students will bring their own devices to school. Concerns with this include protecting the network, and the matter of discipline and lack of control, since a user would be able to leave the school’s network and get onto their own. Also, there is the problem of how a teacher would handle a room when there are many different devices in use. There are no answers as of now for these issues.
Another hurdle, said Mr. Smith, is that each student needs to be connected at home. Providers like Comcast and EPB have been included in conversations, he said. As an example, the school system negotiated with Comcast to provide home service to the 150 students at the STEM school. He said 20,000 kids would go home without having a connection in Hamilton County so the providers need to be involved in discussion of ideas such as a “community cloud.”
Students will have access to the same information that is available to educators, researchers and professionals. The goal is to provide education in a manner where a child can access information and the teachers can facilitate it. A systematic procedure of testing effectiveness is to begin this year with devices and completed infrastructure placed in specific grades in six schools. The teachers in these groups have all been prepared. These schools are Red Bank Elementary, Middle and High, Calvin Donaldson Elementary, East Lake Academy and Howard High. Huntsville, Ala., was cited as an example of recently converting to this teaching mode. It was concluded that although the networking had been done, there was not enough preparation before putting it into practice and that the teachers were not ready.
The Hamilton County Board of Education wants to implement the 1-1 Initiative slowly so that it is manageable and successful. This year a writing assessment will be done online for the fifth, eighth and 11th grades, so the new system will need to be in place. However, said Mr. Smith, converting to this style of teaching is not a “testing issue.” It will be used for day to day teaching. “In two years, you’ll be behind if you are not on 1-1,” he told the board.
To pay for this transformation, the board of education is attempting to “turn pennies into dollars,” said Christie Jordan, director of accounting and budgeting. There are many ways this is being done, such as buying new iPads for principals, teachers and administrators , and updating servers at the schools which will save the cost of maintenance contracts. She also said that federal funds are available in the form of grants for schools that have a 90 percent poverty level. Hamilton County has 21 schools that will qualify. This federal money will free up money that comes from the state.