News Column

Twin Falls School Districts Look to Tap Technology

February 17, 2014

By Julie Wootton, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho

Feb. 17--TWIN FALLS -- Not long ago, Twin Falls students had to turn off their cell phones and put them away in class.

But now, some teachers let students use their own mobile devices for schoolwork.

A Twin Falls School District committee wants to take it one step further by creating a robust BYOD -- "bring your own device" -- policy, operations manager Brady Dickinson said.

It's among issues targeted by a committee creating a five-year technology plan.

Bill Brulotte, principal at I.B. Perrine Elementary School, said it's exciting to see the potential for more classroom technology to teach students according to their learning style.

"Technology has just been as asset for helping us connect with kids" in a digital world, he said.

The challenge is figuring out how to pay to upgrade desktop computers while also buying mobile devices. Dickinson put together a work group this fall of about a dozen teachers and administrators to create a five-year technology plan. They've been working on it since October and should be done in a month, he said.

"It's really driven by the money coming from the state for technology," Dickinson said, and other sources such as grants.

Desktop computers throughout the district are aging. About 3,500 of the district's 3,800 desktop computers are at least six years old, says a technology report presented Monday to the school board.

When the economic downtown hit in 2009, the district cut back on technology spending, Dickinson said. Before, the district was replacing desktop computers yearly on a rotating basis.

The technology plan recommends reviving that approach, Dickinson said.

As for mobile devices, some schools used grant money to buy them, but they're not common in the district. The committee's goal is one device for every two students. Dickinson said he'd love to see a one-to-one plan, but he thinks the cost will prohibit that.

A classroom with 30 students can do a lot, though, with even four or five devices, Dickinson said. Mobile devices would only be used in classrooms, and "we're not buying devices to give to kids," he said. The two most popular devices in classrooms now are iPads and Chromebooks.

"The iPad has been really popular with our younger grades," Dickinson said, especially kindergarten through third grades.

At Perrine Elementary, each classroom has an iPad, thanks to fundraising by the school's Parent Teacher Association.

Chromebooks are used more frequently at middle and high schools.

The district's elementary and middle schools also have wireless Internet access, but the three high schools do not.

"We were supposed to have it installed back in December, but they are behind," according to the technology report. "We are hoping that is completed in the next couple of months."

Twin Falls high schools have wireless hot spots, but not building-wide access, said Brett Keller, instructional technology coordinator. Once wireless is fully installed, "I think it will change what takes place in classrooms,"he said.

Almost half of Idaho middle and high schools slated to receive wireless access have yet to have the equipment installed, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna told legislators earlier this month. But, he told the House Education Committee, the installation is on schedule to be completed before the March 15 deadline in the contract.

The contract committed the state to pay $2.25 million for the next five years to the Nashville, Tenn.-based Education Networks of America.

Reporter Kimberlee Kruesi contributed to this story.


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Source: Times-News (Twin Falls, ID)

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