Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Roll Out!

Tonight we have our parent meetings for the roll out of our 1:1 computer initiative. This will be the last time you hear me refer to this as the "1:1 Project" or the "1:1 Computer Initiative". Moving forward we will be referring to this as the "Connected Learning Initiative". I will draw some distinctions between the two monikers next week. 

We have hung our hats on the idea that this is the biggest shift in education for this generation of students and continue to believe this to be the case. When discussing the multitude of reasons why our district believes this is the right time to embark on this type of engaged learning platform, we have been steadfast in our belief that our reasons have nothing to do with keeping up with districts around us. 

However, there is no mistaking the fact that there are many that have gone before us. Because the introduction of connected learning is so fluid and changes so rapidly the number of districts currently utilizing this type of environment is ever changing. The most current data estimates the number of districts at roughly 170, which accounts for almost half of all school districts in Iowa. The interactive map below will enable you to see what other districts in Iowa are doing in this regard.

Ironically, in the early days of this movement, those districts that made the switch were among the smallest in the state. There are a number of theories as to why this was, but prevailing wisdom suggests that many of the bigger schools simply didn't have the capacity to sustain something as logistically and financially cumbersome as computers for every student. The strain on network capabilities alone (and managing those devices) was enough to delay launch dates in some school districts. That is becoming less and less of an issue for school districts in Iowa, and with 170 districts launched, we are quickly reaching critical mass statewide. We are now seeing some of the larger schools come on board, in fact Cedar Falls is launching along with us this semester and I just read an article about plans for Dubuque. The primary reason that some schools are delaying at this point probably has more to do with a lack of bandwidth than it does anything else.

Additionally with the number of school districts that are currently connected in this way, you may wonder if we are late to the game. My answer to that would be that we are entering at just the right time. We have been talking about this night for years. Much work has been done behind the scenes by completing a lot of research and visiting with other schools to see how they went about getting their programs up and running. There were infrastructure issues that needed to be addressed, and hardware that needed to be updated and replaced. The device that the students are using is only one small piece of the overall big picture and the capabilities that we have with our connected environment. So our planning and launch were done in a very deliberate manner after consultation with numerous experts in the field. 

Are you nervous? Certainly there may be some trepidation out there as you prepare tonight (or in the coming weeks) for your child to have access to a school owned computer at home. If you have questions about our program, our capabilities, or how this all works I encourage you to send an email or stop one of us in the hall, at the game, or wherever you may see us out and about. We may not have the answer right now, but we have 170 + people that we can call and find out how they answered that same question.

You may have concerns that the computer will be damaged, lost, or stolen. We have taken steps to mitigate those fears, and Mr. Dieken will be explaining how our Cooperative Loss program works during our parent roll out meetings. As an aside on that issue, empirical evidence from a growing body of statewide research (170 + subjects and growing) suggests that while those issues do occur they are less frequent than you may think. You may have concerns that your child may find themselves accessing material that is unsuitable or inappropriate for our young people. Again, we have taken steps to minimize these instances but realize that a determined youth can defeat some of the most robust commercial and educational systems on the market today. Teaching our young people about Digital Citizenship may be the most powerful weapon we have at our disposal to protect and educate our youngsters about these pitfalls.

Finally I want to address those parents who have made the decision to not allow their child access to a computer at home, or have expressed concerns about the infiltration of technology into the classroom. We respect your views and appreciate your feedback. As a primary educator of your own child you absolutely have the right to make those decisions and we will honor your wishes to the best of our ability. However, I encourage you to continue those conversations with your child and with your building principal. If the map above is any indication, connected learning isn't going anywhere. The future is here.

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