Last updated: April 29. 2014 2:49PM - 972 Views
Aaron K. Nelson anelson@civitasmedia.com

Supt. Henry Webb, left, presents his research on the digital conversion to members of the Board of Education in Martin on Thursday.
Supt. Henry Webb, left, presents his research on the digital conversion to members of the Board of Education in Martin on Thursday.
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MARTIN — The Floyd County Board of Education approved an ambitious digital conversion plan at a specially-called meeting at May Valley Elementary on Thursday.

The measure would see dense wireless Internet installed in all district schools, cooperation with community partners to expand wireless Internet coverage in local businesses and public places, and put a new laptop and backpack into the hands of every student in 5th grade and above within the next four years.

Several times at the meeting, Supt. Dr. Henry Webb reiterated the blunt truth of the situation: “It would be so much easier for us not to do this.” But, given our culture’s increasing reliance on technology, spreading globalization, and the positive outlook for computer-centered careers, Dr. Webb expressed the urgency of moving forward with the plan.

The biggest question was finding the necessary funding. The largest expense, estimated at roughly $870,000, would be in the first year, when wireless access points would be installed, software licenses would be provisioned, and teachers students in the 5th and 9th grade would be given the first batch of over 1,000 machines and backpacks. Starting in 2015, the annual expense should fall to roughly $400,000, as every year from then on, 5th and 9th grade students will continue to receive new laptops.

Webb explained that, thanks to pooling funds that have not been used in the past two years, the board has already accrued $787,000 to go into the project. Coupled with recurring Kentucky title funds, he explained the district would be able to foot the bill year after year.

The idea has been discussed as far back as 2006, but it wasn’t until the last few years that the wheels were set in motion to research the best possible way to implement it in Floyd County. Months of research has gone into which devices would be the best fit for students and teachers, which software platforms would provide the best value and content, how other schools have incorporated similar plans, and how prepared Floyd County is for such a dramatic shift.

The computers chosen are new Dell Latitude models designed specifically for students, with flat-folding hinges, durable screens, and full versions of Windows 8 secured to make sure they are used only for education. Various other laptop and tablet models were considered, but the laptops chosen provide the most power and flexibility for the least money. Teachers will be given slightly more powerful, touchscreen versions of the same device, while everyone issued a laptop will also be given a backpack designed to carry it safely.

Software will include Blackboard, an online collaboration system that will provide the tools for student-teacher communication, assignment uploading, grade books, and hosting for documents and videos, and Novation, a tool to help teachers gather research and resources for their lesson plans.

Surveys of district educators showed that a whopping 97% of Floyd County teachers believed the new technology would enhance the teaching experience, and 98% were willing to undergo additional training to make it happen. The response was the highest Webb says he’s ever seen from such a survey.

The digital conversion also includes a Mondopad display for each school—a 70 inch touchscreen device that acts as both a chalkboard and a fully-functioning computer, completely funded by a KVEC grant. To go along with the new technology, the district will be updating rules and policies accordingly, firming up their tech support crew, and having students undergo training in responsibility and etiquette with their new devices.

Webb was very clear that teachers and textbooks could never be made obsolete, and that education in Floyd County will always need quality instructors. The technology would simply open the door to exciting new possibilities, such as Spanish classes video chatting with classrooms in Mexico, history teachers being able to cull various war diaries and other primary sources to bring their lessons to life, and parents and students being able to communicate with their teachers more easily.

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