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Lap(top) of Luxury

Alissa Widman Neese • Oct 18, 2014 at 1:00 AM

Rather than reading from the printed page, senior Mitchell Ott caught up on current events by way of a Spanish website splashed across his computer screen, right from his desk. 

"We use our computer to view web pages," Ott explained, translating teacher Anna Reed's Spanish phrases. "We need to know how to use it to access our projects and homework."

Gone are the days of lugging around bulky textbooks, recording notes by hand and submitting homework in-person — outdated and sometimes tiresome tasks, according to Ott and his classmates.

Monroeville Schools is the latest district to roll out a relatively large one-to-one laptop initiative, a program providing each student in designated grades with a personal laptop for both in-school and at-home use. Starting this year, students in grades five through 12 received a Samsung Chromebook, a new, lightweight laptop that stores most of its data online, rather than on a hard drive.

Although the program is still in its initial phases, the district hopes the wireless technology will improve student organization, provide collaborative digital learning experiences and supplement state-mandated online testing, Monroeville High principal Jim Kazcor said.

Erin Wise, a junior high teacher who helped pioneer the program, said the initiative indicates a movement toward "instant teaching," which provides immediate interaction between teachers and students with no distance limitations.

"When you walk into classrooms, you're going to hear the clicking of keys taking notes, not the scratching of pencils anymore," she said.

Local trends

Of the area's 15 school districts, six use some sort of one-to-one technology initiative, according to a Register analysis of data school officials provided.

Perkins Schools pioneered the concept locally in 2008, providing every student in grades six through 12 with an Apple laptop. The trend is gaining popularity. Norwalk Schools followed suit in 2009 with a tablet initiative. Vermilion Schools implemented a laptop program in 2010, with Put-in-Bay Schools following a year later.

In addition to Monroeville Schools, Port Clinton Schools also implemented a Samsung Chromebook program this year, with each eighth-grader receiving a device. Students will use their laptop throughout high school and keep it after graduation. Each year, eighth-graders will receive a personal laptop to gradually phase in the program to include all high school students.

"We're going to continue to meet with teachers to evaluate the program and see how we can expand it in the future," Port Clinton Schools superintendent Patrick Adkins said.

Ultimately, the scope of a program depends on the district's desires, wireless Internet access and financial capabilities.

Margaretta Schools, for example, recently rolled out a more economically feasible "bring your own device" program for its middle and high school students, using the district's existing wireless network.

Students bring their own technology devices — laptop, tablet, smart phone and such — to school for educational use with a teacher's permission. During a lesson, students without access to a device can use a limited number of district-owned products.

Many schools also provide students with mobile carts, shifting district-owned laptops and tablets between classrooms to provide a one-to-one experience without the responsibility of taking the devices home.

Personal laptops?

As with many new educational endeavors, one-to-one laptop initiatives aren't without critics.  

Some question the costs of the programs, particularly when districts are strapped for cash. Student technology fees — typically $50 to $100 or so — can't fund entire initiatives, with costs ranging $30,000 to more than $650,000 locally. 

Others question the effectiveness of the programs.

A 2011 article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, an organization of educators from around the globe, suggests one-to-one laptop initiatives often do little to improve a district's academic achievement. The programs "amplify what's already occurring — for better or worse — in classrooms" and rely heavily on good implementation to work well, according to research cited in the article.

Simply put: Technology isn't a cure-all for already-existing educational issues.

Even so, local students and educators have high hopes for their new technology programs. With proper training and execution, district leaders are confident teachers can use technology to enhance the classroom experience.

Laptops provide students with a digital outlet to express themselves while staying organized and participating in problem-based learning, Adkins said. They also result in long-term cost-savings, with fewer purchases of textbooks and classroom supplies.

"Ultimately, we expect they will improve teaching and learning," Adkins said. "It's a wise investment and from what I've observed in classes, it's already going very well."

Local 1-to-1 technology initiatives

•Monroeville: Samsung Chromebooks for grades 5-12 since 2013. Costs $131,000 annually.

•Norwalk: Samsung Tablets for grades 11-12 since 2009. Costs $30,000 annually.

•Perkins: Apple MacBook Airs for grades 6-12 since 2008. Costs $229,000 annually.

•Port Clinton: Samsung Chromebooks for grade 8 (9-12 to be 'phased in') since 2013. Costs $45,000 annually.

•Put-in-Bay: Apple MacBook Pros for grades 7-12 since 2011. Costs $30,000 annually.

•Vermilion: Apple MacBook Airs for grades 6-12 since 2010. Costs $666,000 annualy.

Note: All figures rounded.

Friendly chatter

The Register asked its Facebook friends and Twitter followers how they feel about one-to-one laptop programs at local schools.

•Matthew Hoty: Extremely helpful. Every college class I've taken has incorporated some kind of technology. I've been ahead of classmates.

•Heidi Schild: Excellent program. Really helped my kids be prepared in college.

•Brandon Gladwell: As long as they don't try anything like using tax dollars to spy on us, (National Security Agency) style.

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