Elgin Area School District U-46 may join a growing number of districts switching from textbooks to tablets and other such digital devices in classrooms.
The district's Citizens' Advisory Council curriculum committee is studying a one-to-one technology plan that would allow every student access to a digital device in school and at home.
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The cost of outfitting the district's 40,000 students with such devices could be huge. But first the district needs to better communicate with parents why students need them, said Melissa Lane, CAC curriculum committee chairwoman and a parent representative for Larkin High School.
"We are not talking about pricing," Lane said. "Textbooks have a cost. So does a device. It's not so much how you deliver the content, but how are students learning to analyze what's out there."
School districts from Batavia to Mundelein are using tablets, laptops, and other such devices in classrooms to varying degrees. Districts going completely electronic have been rolling out the devices over several years.
In U-46, only students participating in the Mandarin Chinese course as part of the World Languages and International Studies Academy at Streamwood High School use an online website for learning that also is accessible as an iPad app. Students are allowed to take their classroom iPads home.
Several schools and teachers have received mini-grants for laptops. Also, U-46 purchased 3,000 laptops last school year, giving 2,200 to teachers and 800 to students. Yet, students weren't allowed to take the laptops home, officials said.
The district has been experimenting with various digital devices, including iPads and Android tablets, small Windows-based laptops and Google Chromebooks, to figure out what would be most effective in future classrooms, officials said.
"We are not in the position to recommend one device over another," Lane said.
The school board is expected to vote next month on a proposal to improve the district's wireless infrastructure. At present, 21 of the district's 56 schools have some degree of wireless capability. Officials propose spending $1.3 million to make the remaining 37 schools wireless during the next two years.
"Wireless infrastructure is a key component of getting ready for whatever happens instructionally," said Craig Williams, director of information services. "Basically there would be wireless (access) in every classroom in the district. What we want to be prepared for is all different types of technology usage."
Williams said most districts that have adopted a one-to-one technology plan did not start with the hardware.
Aside from the cost of buying devices, which could be split between the district and students, privacy and security concerns top the list of considerations for the committee. Officials would have to decide whether students should be allowed access to the Internet on such devices, and if that should vary by grade level. Another question is who would provide technical support for these devices, if students are allowed to take them home.
"All of those factors aren't determined yet," Lane said. "We are very much in the beginning stages of exploring this."
Lane said the district ultimately needs to go digital because of changes to standardized testing -- the state's PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) online test debuts next school year.
"The other factor," she said, "is students gaining 21st century skills."