Tech initiative meets mixed support

Farhan Ahmad, Copy Editor

Following the introduction of Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), the district plans to provide Apple iPads to all students within the next three years through the 1:X program. The district’s push for technology has been met with mixed reviews by those in the school community. No set plan is published regarding the district-wide rollout of 1:X or the district’s technology initiative.

The “X” in 1:X (pronounced “1 to X”) represents the unclear number of devices used in a student’s workflow, as well as the district’s developing plans to put gadgets in the hands of its students. According to Superintendent Stephen Waddell, the community must tolerate the uncertainties in the issue of technology.

“We’re not putting technology here for its own sake,” Waddell said. “The technology is being put in because … it’ll make you more productive, and … because it’s engaging. It’s engaging because kids like to use it and because it allows them to do work that’s more interesting and more profound and to do the kinds of work they couldn’t do otherwise.”

Others, such as history department chair Mike Ferguson, differ from Waddell’s idea of keeping student interest in the classroom.

“Engagement is conversation and direct interaction between peers and teachers,” Ferguson said. “We have looked high and low for apps or websites and asked the ‘Curriculum Design Team’ to find some. They have not found really anything for history.”

According to Waddell, trial-and-error is necessary to shape the way the district handles large changes, such as 1:X.

“Nobody has absolute answers before they begin something,” Waddell said. “And that doesn’t mean failure. Trial-and-error means success. All productivity and creativity uses that methodology.”

With an estimated $20 million price tag, the 1:X initiative includes buying every student an iPad, giving teachers a MacBook Air or Pro and placing four to five MacBook Airs in the classroom – all costing about $1,350 per student.

English teacher Jeffrey Willard said the risk is high in terms of the 1:X plan being a hit-or-miss.

“I’m a free market guy and believe in return on investment,” Willard said. “Could kids be more college ready with $20 million put somewhere else? I think so. Perhaps there are other ways we can inspire our students.”

But according to Assistant Principal Dedrick Buckels, the cost is worth it if the district can change the way students perceive learning.

“Of course it’s a different generation, and times are changing,” Buckels said. “We need to continue to bring fresh, new ideas to the table. Initially, the thought of spending $20 million is high, but it’s something we’re willing to do to make successful students that have an interest in learning.”

Envisioning collaboration among schools, Waddell said he hopes to create a more effective system of tools in the classroom.

“One school may go in a different direction using 1:X or BYOT, but they come up with some innovative ways to use it,” Waddell said. “And another school finds another way to do it. We’ll share that and learn from each other. This is going to be evolving.”

Due to the increased cost of 1:X, compared to the estimated $17 million to run the older system, Chief Technology Officer Barbara Brown said she anticipates funding to transition away from bond money to the district’s operating budget to help provide funds.

“Relying on bond money isn’t realistic since this program must be sustained over time,” Brown said. “1:X provides so much more in the hands of our students, when in the past, students only had a couple computers in the classroom. It’s just a better way to spend our money.”

Willard and Ferguson both said the $20 million should focus on education reform that promotes students who can think critically.

“Relying on bond money isn’t realistic since this program must be sustained over that money to teachers that engage, then we won’t need that much technology,” Ferguson said. “Unless you believe that students can learn just by sitting in front of a computer, then I don’t think it’s true they can learn how to think critically from a computer program. After all, what we’re trying to create are critical thinkers.”

Assistant Principal Michael Vargas, on the other hand, said he is concerned about the college-preparedness of students.

“We need to think it through clearly before we make that huge investment,” Vargas said. “We want to change kids to be prepared for college, but we treat them like it’s all fluff-fluff in classrooms, and we want to take away lectures. Colleges aren’t changing. They’re still lecturing. You think they care?”

In the next three years, the 1:X program, as it currently stands, will have provided every student with an iPad using a grade-level distribution, meaning students will receive iPads when they enter certain grades.

“I feel like we have a solid plan, but we’re still tweaking it,” Brown said. “A grade-level implementation of grades 1, 4, 7 and 10 over the course of three years will give everybody a device by the end.”

Junior Anish Patel said he is excited to see the district embracing an inevitable change in teaching.

“There aren’t too many alternative teaching styles,” Patel said. “It’s good the district is at the forefront right now. Though some people may think iPads will be distracting, the overall idea streamlines education and makes things simpler, which it isn’t right now.”

Waddell said the 1:X plan will be fully implemented over time and that the pilot schools – Downing Middle School, Killian Middle School and Lewisville High School – have been successful and supported by the community.

“My colleagues are everybody in the district,” Waddell said. “It’s not me and the leadership team that sits around the table. It’s going to look different in different places.”