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Tackling technology in District 833

School District 833 is considering expanding the use of technology in education by adding online courses, equipping some students with iPad tablet computers and extending secondary school media center hours.

District 833 Superintendent Mark Porter said that in meetings last fall, and through online surveys, parents said students need more technology.

The district's response to parents and the need for school technology that is at least comparable to what is available to students outside the classroom is to have all school books and "learning resources" available on hand-held devices, said Keith Ryskoski, assistant superintendent for secondary education. Improved technology is part of the district's Pathway to Excellence strategic plan.

"We need to start somewhere," he said. "The district is treading water in terms of keeping up with technology but the water is rising. How can we ask students to step back in technology from what they have outside the classroom?"

The School Board is expected to vote June 16 on the strategic plan, in which a section on technology calls for offering three secondary courses online by the fall of 2012. The district also envisions that students would have iPads on loan or for rent if students can't afford them or funding can't be found through partnerships and grants, Ryskoski said.

Also, extending hours in middle and high school media centers would add another path to technology, he said, for students and their parents.

If the strategic plan is approved, a committee would be formed this fall, made up of educators, parents and other local residents, to research technology resources and find ways to pay for it, according to the strategic planning team headed by Ryskoski.

The plan drew praise and questions during a June 2 School Board workshop.

"It's a wonderful idea," said board member Jim Gelbmann, "but I'm concerned about the 'digital divide' between those who have digital devices and those who can't afford to buthem."

Renting or sharing might be among the choices, Ryskoski said. "There's probably not a perfect answer."

"The challenges are daunting," said Ernie Pines, community education director, "but not insurmountable."

There is a great need to educate parents, Pines said.

There will be students who have more technology knowledge than teachers and other staff members, Ryskoski said, but they can be brought into the process to communicate their knowledge.

There will be people who'll ask why a first-grader needs a hand-held device when they should be learning to add and subtract, said board member Tracy Brunnette. "It's daunting, but where do we start?" she said.

The financing and research is in the developmental stage, Ryskoski said. The community must be engaged. "It's a very important piece," he said.

This fall, students who have hand-held devices such as iTouch or iPads, following a required orientation and agreement to adhere to "acceptable use and digital ethics" will be allowed to use the district's online network, according to the strategic plan.

A year from now, there will be a plan in place to address renting or loaning i-Pads to students, according to the recommendations.

Some district administrators already are using iPad devices.