Technology in Idaho Schools: Creative Solutions

Technology Map - Tutornet

Technology Map – Tutornet (Photo credit: steven w)

It’s exciting news–Idaho teachers are making real progress using technology. During this past summer, 11 Idaho schools were awarded a total of $3 million as part of the Idaho Technology Pilot Grant. Successful grant applicants were to include a high level of technology integration in their proposals, in order to have the best chances of being selected.

And, for the most part, the technology projects were innovative and aligned with students’ needs and instructional goals. For instance, the Kuna School District wanted to continue its use of Google Chromebooks (which I have been writing about since they were introduced), designing a 1:1 program for its middle school. This project is aimed at improving math proficiency, but I’m willing to bet it will improve many facets of the school day and beyond.

One of the reasons I get so excited about Google Chromebooks in education is their sheer power, flexibility, and affordability. A Chromebook can be used in almost all of a student’s daily activities. They are durable and have a long battery life. They don’t require software updates or anti-virus programs, as all updates are done in the Google cloud. Students’ work can be stored in Google Drive. It’s a tool that can greatly increase engagement, productivity, learning, creativity, collaboration, communication.

The teachers at Kuna Middle School will take advantage of the tools available through Google Apps for Education–all free tools that can save a school tens of thousands of dollars in software costs. Add these savings to the reduced costs of IT support (no need to upgrade programs, computers, install software, create networked drives), and it’s a no-brainer.

How else might we cut technology costs at schools?

We could eliminate a lot of the proprietary tools Idaho schools are using. The State of Idaho recently (well in the last year of so) purchased a statewide license with Blackboard, a proprietary course management system. While Blackboard gave them a “deal,” it still cost Idaho taxpayers a chunk of change. Were there other tools that should have been explored and tested?

And what about software that allows parents to view their child’s grades? These licenses are not cheap, either. Might there be an open-source alternative–a better way to do this?

Can we keep more money in Idaho?

How about funds that are leaving our state and going to schools like Brigham Young? High school students who need to earn credits in certain courses are encouraged to take independent study courses online from BYU: http://is.byu.edu/site/. Why can’t the State of Idaho offer these courses and use these funds for technology education or other educational uses?

Let’s save money, then turn around and use those savings efficiently and effectively.

I’m all about saving money when the options are just as good or better with free or affordable solutions. In other words, the solutions have to make sense. From what I can see, 1:1 computing makes sense, using free collaborative software tools makes sense, and taking courses online from Idaho institutions makes sense.

So, let’s figure out how we can save money on one end and then put this money into the hands of schools, teachers, and students to spend wisely on technologies that work for them.

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