Mo. high school focuses on high tech

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Columbia Daily Tribune
(COLUMBIA, Mo., AP) — Technology opens up a lot of possibilities for Myles Freborg’s foreign language classes at Battle High School in Columbia.
During the summer, he scheduled a time for his Spanish students to Skype with a family he knows in Morocco who used to live in Spain.
“It gives them a dose of culture,” Freborg said. “It’s real. They can see the language used in context.”
In August, when Battle opens for its first regular school year, Freborg is excited to make use of more technology opportunities to come, particularly with each student receiving an iPad Mini during the first week of school. With the iPads, students can listen to audio files of the language being spoken or record their own files for Freborg to evaluate, he said. “I like that every student has one. It’s a language lab in the palm of their hands,” he said.
Battle staff ordered about 1,100 iPad Minis for incoming students, and the students will use them instead of textbooks. School district officials touted the cost savings of buying the devices instead of textbooks as one of the benefits of the move to digital books. The iPads will cost about $632,000, Battle Principal Kim Presko has said.
Presko said she sees several perks in addition to cost savings. Students are coming into school with more exposure to technology, she said — the staff calls them “digital natives.” They are used to technology as an everyday part of life, as most grew up with computers at home and many have smartphones. That means the way educators look at technology needs to change, Presko said.
“The old way of thinking was that you took the kids to technology versus them having the technology with them,” Presko said. “By giving them the iPads, technology is just part of the tools that they have and not part of something we allow them to use at certain times.”
By giving each student a device, Battle will become what’s known as a 1:1 technology school. Columbia’s Tolton Catholic High School is one of those, too — all its students receive laptops — as are schools in a few other Missouri school districts, including North Kansas City, where all high school students receive laptops.
North Kansas City is about to start its fifth year as a 1:1 school. It typically takes a district three to five years to fully implement the initiative, said Carrie Bailey, a certified Apple trainer for the district. So far, Bailey said, the initiative has been “pretty successful.”
“Levels of engagement have risen with students. There are more opportunities for 21st-century skills for students . and global learning beyond just the classroom walls,” she said. “We’re starting to see some real results.”
The district also hasn’t had many issues with the technology, she said. Filters on the laptops prevent students from looking at certain sites, such as Facebook, both at school and at home. Battle students will have filtered Internet while at school but no filters at home, Presko said.
Broken or damaged devices also haven’t been a real problem in North Kansas City, Bailey said. If a student does damage a laptop, Bailey said the district works with him or her to determine what happened and how to handle it. The devices also have a GPS tracking device, which means the school can locate it if it’s lost or stolen.
The iPads at Battle also will have GPS tracking. The school is still working on a policy for damage to the devices, Presko said, but has discussed charging a flat fee to replace devices deemed “unfixable.” The process would work similar to phone insurance, which allows users to receive a new device for a smaller fee than the actual cost. If a student is consistently damaging devices, Presko said, the school would deal with that situation on an individual basis.
Overall, however, she said she doesn’t really have concerns about the technology at Battle.
“I think there will be some things we hadn’t thought about that happen,” she said. “We have a team of great people helping us solve those issues.”
Aside from iPads, the school will have state-of-the-art technology throughout the building. In the performing arts center, all the sound boards will be digital.
“Most of the things here are the newest things, where at other schools it’s about, ‘How much money can we save to purchasing something?’ They can’t do it all at once,” Presko said.
To keep up with changing technology, after the last tax levy increase passed, the district moved technology from an item paid for with bond money — which typically pays for buildings and other more permanent structures — to a part of the operating budget, which covers supplies.
Presko hopes that the iPad experiment at Battle will have positive results and the district will continue to head down that path for other schools.
The 1:1 technology experiment was successful enough in North Kansas City that it is now expanding to other schools.
Last school year, middle schools participated in a pilot program that allowed 30 classrooms across five middle schools to have iPads, which they only used at school. The pilot will continue in the fall, Bailey said.
Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher also said he thinks digital textbooks will become the new norm, but in Columbia he first wants to see how the 1:1 pilot at Battle goes.
“We want to use it as an opportunity to see how students respond, what kind of issues we have with the loss of iPads, of technical difficulties, those kinds of things,” Belcher said. “We want to use it as a pilot to make decisions about other high schools and eventually middle schools.”