LEAGUE CITY — Could textbooks soon be a thing of the past?
If officials in the Clear Creek school district have their way, books will be replaced by apps. And many of the traditional textbooks in classrooms could be a thing of the past as early as next school year.
The first of 30,000 computer tablets were distributed Tuesday to Clear Creek students at Victory Lakes Intermediate. This time next year, every student, teacher and staff member will be equipped with the Dell Latitude tablets.
“This will help with school,” Valerie Stewart, 13, a Victory Lakes eighth-grader said soon after taking her new tablet through its paces. Students will get another day of training on the tablets before teachers use them in their instruction.
Thanks to the recently passed bond referendum, the district will spend $16.6 million to supply every student in fourth grade and up with the Latitudes. Teachers and staff got theirs earlier in the year.
The shift to the new technology has been a year in the making. Students at Victory Lakes were part of a pilot program that at first tested Apple iPads.
That test run showed school officials the more versatile Latitudes were a better fit for an education setting, Kevin Schwartz, Clear Creek’s chief technology officer, said.
While a massive culture change, the tablet program is an opt-in program. Parents can, if they wish, decide they don’t want their children to have one of the tablets. Few have opted out so far, even though the $500-plus cost for a tablet is the parents’ responsibility should it be lost, broken or stolen.
To ease what could be a hefty price should the tablet go missing or is damaged, the district is offering a $25 per year insurance plan to cover the costs in case of a mishap.
Jonathan Ard, another Victory Lakes eighth-grader, can’t wait to get his hands on a new tablet.
“There will be less paper and it will be (an) easier way to carry stuff around,” the 13-year-old said. “As you can tell, I don’t have many school supplies and it is not like I am swimming in money. It will be an easier way to manage stuff.”
Schwartz said the tablets are yet another tool to advance learning in the district, but despite firewalls and systems to prevent misuse and students from accessing improper websites or material, the most important lesson will be a “digital citizenship” policy.
“We have a group of (intermediate school students) who came up with what the definition of digital citizenship would be on campus and at home,” Andrea Winters, the district’s director of learning technology, said. “They came up with the concepts.”
Winters said another group of students are working with Superintendent Greg Smith to develop policies for the tablets’ use.
Schwartz said the district worked with parent groups to develop policies and procedures to protect students’ identities and keep them away from improper websites, but the responsibility still falls on the students and their parents.
Teachers as facilitators
It is all part of the philosophy that the students will be as much a part of establishing the policies and setting the curriculum.
“The days of sit and get (instruction) are gone,” Winters said.
Teachers will be more of facilitators to opening the doors to learning, and the tablets will be a big part of that experience.
“We want to inspire kids to learn,” said Paula Brewton, one of the district’s learning technology leads who facilitates the use of the tablets.
Teacher Darlene Schlitzberger is already seeing a difference.
“The kids are actually doing their homework and not at home,” she said. “You see them at every chance they get work on the tablets, and they are doing their school work and not playing games.”
That will be facilitated even more when every Clear Creek campus and facility is set for wireless Internet.
Mary Pavish, the Victory Lakes technology integration specialist, said sporting events and after-school functions have already been evidence of students doing work in the stands and she expects that to continue.
The tablets also offer opportunities for students to take the classroom out of the classroom.
Students studying biology can take a tablet to a nature preserve and document marine life and compare notes or look up information in an instant.
Schlitzberger said students working to build small paper boats that could carry a load of pennies without sinking already used the tablets to document trial runs with photos and videos to help improve design.
Winters sees the district taking a major leap within a year. She said the district is already working with publishers to find digital textbooks that go beyond the written word with interactive features including video and access to online resources.
Obsolete in five years
Because technology is ever-changing, Clear Creek used five-year school bonds to finance the tablets. Scwartz admits that by then, the tablets issued this week will be “obsolete.”
“We have no idea what sort of technology will be in place five years from now,” he said. “I am willing to bet it hasn’t been invented yet. It’s likely going to be Cloud-based, but the actual device doesn’t exist yet, I am sure.”
Pavish expects whatever it is, it will be smaller, faster and packed with more technology than what students are using now.
“That won’t be an issue,” she said. “The (computer) companies are way ahead of us on developing this technology, and the students will probably be using it before we introduce it in the classroom.”
Schwartz said whatever form the next generation of device takes, the district is already planning — and setting aside funding — for it.
State changes law
It is a concept that is long overdue, said State Sen. Larry Taylor, a longtime advocate of replacing textbooks with tablets.
According to the Texas Education Agency, only 26 percent of the technology used in schools are something other than desktop computers. But the number of netbooks, ebooks and tablets is growing, according to a state report.
Taylor has pushed legislation that would give flexibility for districts to drop the traditional paper textbooks for technology-based and digital materials.
“During (the last legislative session) we changed from funding textbooks to educational materials which allowed flexibility to include technology-based educational materials,” Taylor said.
Taylor wants to see the concept go statewide so every district can adopt a similar plan as Clear Creek’s.
Other districts are logging on
In Texas City, the school district’s Foundation for the Future is working on a grant that would provide all students with access to iPads, district spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said. The foundation already funded some limited iPad instructional programs within the district.
There already are 30 iPads at all the elementary schools and Fry Intermediate, with another 120 at the high school.
“At the elementary level they are primarily used for supplemental instructional support,” she said. “At TCHS, they are being utilized in the Algebra classrooms because the grant was written specifically for Algebra I students.”
In the Galveston school district, a grant from Moody Permanent Endowment Fund provided dollars for the Austin Middle School Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Magnet that were used for iPads for 50 students and to increase wireless access points. The district also boosted its wireless access at other campuses, spokesman Johnston Farrow said.
In Friendswood, the district piloted a program last year called, BYOD: Bring Your Own Device.
“Students in K-12 were able to use smart phones, tablets, nooks and Kindles, as well as laptops to go along with whatever the classroom had,” spokeswoman Karolyn Gephart said.
Dickinson is in the preliminary stages of looking for ways to get tablets in each students’ hands as well, district spokeswoman Tammy Dowdy said.
Tablets for the students
Clear Creek ISD this past week started the two-year process of getting tablets into the hands of every student in fourth grade and above.
TOTAL TABLETS: 30,750 — 27,750 for students, 3,000 for staff
COST: $16.6 million, $541 per device
TAKE HOME POLICY: Fourth and fifth graders keep tablets at school. 6th grade and higher take them home
OPT-IN: Parents must sign a form allowing their child to have a tablet. Parents can opt-out. Parents can sign up for $25 per year insurance to cover costs in case device is lost, stolen or damaged
PROTECTION: Some websites including social media sites are blocked by district’s firewall
ROLLOUT: September — Clear Horizons Early College School, Clear View Early College High School, Victory Lakes Intermediate;January — freshmen and sophomores at Clear Brook, Clear Creek, Clear Falls, Clear Lake and Clear Springs high schools; September 2014 — All high schools and fifth- and eighth-graders; January 2015 — all fourth-, sixth and seventh-graders
SOURCE: Clear Creek ISD