CROSSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
HUMBOLDT — K.B. Criss hovered in the background of a classroom at Minden, Ill., earlier this year, soaking up what he called “phenomenal advantages of digital education.”
Students in the class were taking a test on a laptop computer. Their answers appeared on a terminal monitored by the teacher.
Once the exercise was completed, the teacher appraised the results and noted a question that puzzled a multitude of students.
“She immediately retaught that information, didn’t have to wait until the next day,” he recalled.
That experience in large measure is why Criss, superintendent of USD 258 schools, is eager for next fall, when all students K-12 will be taught using digital-only methods. Textbooks will be a thing of the past. Teachers will prepare lesson plans by computer to be interactively accessed by students.
Each student in grades 4 through 12 will be issued laptop computers, which they may take home. Students in grades K-3 will use iPads dispersed each day.
The new curriculum will be enhanced by videos and animations, as well as lessons with digital resources from around the globe and immediate feedback to reinforce the work of classroom teachers, Criss said.
“THIS IS something we’ve been looking at the past two years,” Criss said, noting the Humboldt district will be the fourth in the nation to partner with Pearson, a global education company that provides USD 258’s PowerSchool programming, a means of tracking student information.
Pearson 1:1 Learning is the framework that will be used in the classroom.
“Lots of textbook companies have DVDs, but they aren’t interactive,” he said. “We wanted the interactive advantage,” both for students in the learning process and for teachers in course preparation, grading and analysis of student progress.
First exposure for Criss was in a pilot project Pearson started in cooperation with a district in North Carolina. He visited there, the Minden school and also a school in Huntsville, Ala., giving him full view of what digital education could bring to the classroom.
Each visit left Criss more convinced that replacing conventional textbooks and workbooks with laptop computers was the better avenue to educational opportunities.
“I think what we can accomplish will be phenomenal,” Criss said, without a hint of hyperbole. “Education is all about getting better every day, and this will permit us to get better than we would with textbooks.”
He also thinks digital learning will give students a leg up in the state’s transition to new college and career readiness standards, designed to prepare students either to go on to college or join the work force.
“We’re all excited — teachers and administrators — but it is not going to be easy” to go from traditional learning methods to the higher tech approach, Criss said. “We will have to work to learn the materials and the programs.
“Eventually, though, it will give teachers more time to teach, by them not having to spend so much time with paperwork,” as well as open new classroom approaches, he said. “They won’t be up until 2 a.m. grading papers. Grades will be recorded as quickly as students complete assignments and tests.
“The bottom line is it promotes student growth.”
The district wants parents to be closely involved in the transition to digital education.
Criss said parent orientation meetings would be at each school before the fall semester starts to provide a full briefing on how the new digital resources will work and how to help their children take advantage. Special parent nights will be scheduled as often as needed to answer questions and make sure parents are knowledgeable about how their children are learning.
Laptops, loaded with digital curriculum, will be available for pickup in August.
Students will have access to an academic support lab and media center hours will be extended to provide before and after-school access.
“We are developing our media centers into places where students can come and collaborate with other students or study quietly by themselves,” Criss said.
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