SMMUSD HDQRTRS – Is Wi-Fi that can support 60 to 70 devices in a classroom enough? Should it be added on the quads?
These are the types of questions that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education grappled with during a technology presentation earlier this month.
As it stands, technology in the district classrooms is a hodgepodge:
Each school handles its own tech upgrades. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods get new technology donations more regularly, resulting in one-to-one student to computer ratios. In other schools, one grade is lucky to have 40 computers.
When a new computer is added, the old ones hang around, making it hard for teachers to use a single software application for one class. Some teachers have microphones for themselves and a student, amplifying the voices engaged in the lesson. Other teachers still use VHS tapes.
Measure ES, which passed in the 2012 election, permitted the district to issue $385 million in bonds to cover, among other things, school modernizations.
District officials and board members are in the early stages of deciding how some of that money should be spent.
Some board members were surprised by the amount of technology being brought into the classroom.
Students use the Wi-Fi for their gaming devices, electronic readers, smartphones, tablets and more, said Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent of Educational Services.
“If we’re getting to that point then I think we have to look back at out policy,” said board Chair Maria Leon Vazquez, “because I was under the impression that a lot of the schools were not really allowing phones. We’re going to have to revisit that and figure out what devices they are going to be allowed to bring onto the campus. To say phones in elementary school, five years ago we would have said ‘no.’ Nowadays, I don’t know. I see first graders with phones.”
Outdoor Wi-Fi would cost about $3,000 per quad.
About one in four parents who responded to a recent technology survey from the district said they did not have Internet access at home.
One solution could be to let some students take the Internet home with them. Wireless hotspots would cost about $140 per device and an additional $150 for a data plan. Or the district could lease the hotspots.
“On one hand I’m thinking about the fact that we have this money from Measure ES and I’m also thinking about the ongoing costs,” said Leon Vazquez.
When the Los Angeles County Office of Education Internet goes down, the schools lose external access. For $45,000, the district could contract a back-up service provider for just such instances.
Right now, most classrooms are filled only with Macs or only PCs. The district could mix this up.
“You would have teachers and students who are technically proficient across multiple operating systems,” Deloria said. “That’s valuable for students – that’s a valuable life skill. But of course, you would need to have the teacher who is proficient in both.”
The district could make logistical changes as well, opting, for instance, to upgrade the technology every several years. This would centralize the upgrades and ensure a more equitable playing field regardless of a school’s neighborhood.
Board members were hesitant to make recommendations, noting that the sheer amount of options is overwhelming, especially without costs and full analyses. District officials pointed out that they are still in the early stages of narrowing down the options.
“If we were only looking at allocating a very small percentage of the district budget to this right now, it’d be a very different conversation,” said Superintendent Sandra Lyon. “Our challenge is, we have a large chunk of money and we in some ways are struggling with how to prioritize.”
While a lack of funding presents its own challenges, it makes the decision-making process easier.
“If we were coming to you with, what’s the one thing we should do, we’d have a very strong and easy recommendation for you,” Lyon said.
Ultimately, every technological upgrade will require some training for teachers and staff. Training is being considered in every committee that’s tasked with picking the new technology, Deloria said.
“Because what we didn’t want was a situation where kids sit down for a period of the day and they play with their toys, with their tools,” she said, “but it really doesn’t advance their understanding of math or science or literature.”
dave@smdp.com

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