Board reviews technology plan

The New Prague Area School Board came one step closer to approving a 1-to-1 digital learning environment plan Monday, Nov. 25, that it had reviewed at an earlier workshop meeting.

The plan, as reported in the November 14 edition of The New Prague Times, calls for students in grades 5-12 to be issued a Chromebook laptop computer for their use throughout the year. The recommendation was made after more than a year of research and study to help bring the district’s technology program up to date.

Shawn Brandt, the district’s technology integration specialist, said the focus of the technology committee was not so much on technology as it was on learning and teaching and how best to equip students to learn in an increasingly digital age.

While the district has always purchased its computers, the plan is to lease the Chromebooks for a period of three years. Brandt said the reasons for leasing include better utilization of staffing, with the district's ’ technology staff not having to fix everything that might go wrong with the devices, a quicker turnaround for replacement of defective devices and sustainability, or not having the district saddled with outdated equipment.

“Technology is changing and in three years, these may be obsolete,” he said. “Three years ago, no one had ever heard of an iPad or a Chromebook.” Upon approval of the plan, the district will begin implementing it immediately by increasing the bandwidth, or capacity of the district’s web access. They will also begin rolling out the equipment to high school staff and help them with professional development and with moving toward a digital curriculum.

Brandt noted that one of the keys to making the transition was professional development for teachers.

“Teachers need time to develop their digital curriculum. There is no expectation that devices will go to the students and things magically appear. It will take time for teachers to develop and master new skills.”

Superintendent Tim Dittberner said that the focus will continue to be on learning. “This is a tool to get there.”

He added that the plan needs to be financially prudent. He noted that money for the devices can come through a variety of savings in other departments made possible by the use of the Chromebooks. This included text book purchases, printing and copying costs, eliminating the need to purchase new computer labs, reduced software license fees and more.

The board is scheduled to vote on the technology committee recommendation at its Thursday, Dec. 12 meeting.

Also on Monday • The board approved the addition of a new activity at the high school. The Robotics team, a Minnesota State High School League sponsored activity, will begin its season in January. Steve McLellan will be the advisor/coach for the program, which is a fast-growing activity.

• The board approved an update to its strategic plan that was adopted three years ago. Director of Education Services Tony Buthe said the plan was first adopted in 2010 and had not been reviewed since that time. The plan is to have annual reviews of the plan and to adopt a new plan every five years, beginning with 2015.