A proposed schedule for replacing student technology devices veered into lengthy conversation about alternative hardware and measuring goals of the one-to-one technology initiative at Monday night’s Hays USD 489 school board meeting.
In 2015, the board approved a plan costing approximately $1.5 million to provide laptops and tablets for every student in the district.
The board gave the task to a technology committee to create a four-year schedule of replacing the devices rather than making the purchases all at once.
Under the technology plan, Hays High School would see replacement devices for the 2018-19 school year, followed in consecutive years by Hays Middle School, grades 3 to 5 and finally K-2. The cycle would begin again in 2022-23.
The projected cost for each cycle ranges from $203,320 for 806 devices in the third year for grades 3 to 5, to $258,800 for 817 devices in the high school. That takes into account resale value for the existing devices.
After nearly an hour’s discussion, the board took no action, but directed the committee to include additional scheduling on replacement of other district technology for discussion at the next meeting.
Even though the proposal does not specify what devices will be purchased in the replacement program, board member Greg Schwartz said he was concerned the district was “buying a brand name instead of buying a tool” and that the goals of providing the devices should be something that can be measured.
Schwartz and Board President Lance Bickle both voted against the full one-to-one option in 2015.
“My concern is we’re going to buy a device, then afterwards we’re going to figure out what software to use when they get into people’s hands. To me that’s the backwards way to look at it,” he said.
Schwartz said he owns and is a fan of Apple products, “but they’re expensive and they’re a lot more expensive than other alternatives,” he said.
“To me, it seems like we get into this cycle of here’s the latest, greatest thing. The question is what are we trying to accomplish with it, and if we can accomplish what we are with something that’s cheaper, shouldn’t we do that?”
While Superintendent John Thissen and members of the technology committee touted the advantages of iPads, they agreed the district did not need to commit now to replacing them with the same.
“Curriculum is the most important. You pick the best curriculum for you students and then you find the tools,” Thissen said.
“We’ve spent considerable financing and time training teachers to use an iPad,” said Marie Henderson, instructional technology specialist.
“The schedule that’s up here is not device-specific. If we find the right tool for the tasks that we’re trying to complete and it happens to not be an iPad, then it happens to not be an iPad,” she said.
Schwartz and Bickle both expressed concern there is no data to demonstrate the technology is helping the district reach goals with the one-to-one initiative, such as improved test scores.
“That last lease, the big focus was what’s our plan, what is our objective plan that we can measure after Year 1, 2, 3,” Schwartz said. “The issue was how do we measure it.
“Do we test them when they come in at the start of the year and say, ‘Here’s the tools or things we want you to be able to do,’ and test them at the end of the year to see if they’ve improved?”
Wilson Elementary School Principal Anita Scheve said test scores are not the only aspects of a student’s education that can be affected by technology.
“We’re using that technology to impact mental health of our students. We’re using it to help them with mindfulness and things to calm themselves. We’re using it to do things that are instructionally sound that improve behavior in the classroom,” she said.
“If you can find somebody who can tell us how to specifically measure, to isolate and measure the impact of technology as a tool on instruction, I’d love to know how,” she said.
Board member Paul Adams, who is dean of the Fort Hays State University College of Education, said other aspects of the effect of technology in education include a student’s increase in writing skills, project-based learning and student-to-teacher communication.
“My understanding, they’re primarily used for word processors, email communication devices and research online. Is that a fair statement?” Schwartz said.
“I think that’s about half or two-thirds,” Henderson said.
Schwartz reiterated throughout the discussion he believed the effectiveness of the devices could be measured by testing students at the beginning and end of the year. It’s important board members can show success to parents and voters, he said.
“It’s a lot easier for us to go back and talk to the people that elected us to say, ‘Hey, we are asking those questions,’ ” he said.