Blue Earth Area plans tech boost

BLUE EARTH – Blue Earth Area Schools is implementing the 1:1 computer initiative, beginning with a wireless upgrade so students can be better prepared for careers in a technologically driven and fast-changing world.

“Technology is part of our life,” said Superintendent Evan Gough. “We are now seeing 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds at home using their parents’ technology and we’re going to put them in a kindergarten class without a device for them to use.

“The bigger challenge is we’re preparing kids for jobs that don’t yet exist because the technology hasn’t been invented yet,” he said.

The 1:1 computer initiative is a step in that direction by getting one computer in the hands of each student.

“Technology is important in our classrooms,” Gough said last month, when the school board approved the wireless upgrade.

Right now, the district’s wireless network can handle 300 to 400 devices.

“With staff and students, we’ve got 1,300 devices,” Gough said.

“Our computer labs are always full,” Gough said. “The portable computer carts are always checked out. So this is our next logical step in our technology journey.”

Work to be done this spring will include increasing the number and type of access ports to handle more devices.

The plan is for the work at the high school to be done by the end of this school year and work in the elementary/middle school to be completed by the start of school in the fall.

“We need to act on it now so we can start that work,” Gough said. “You have to have the infrastructure in place before you can have all those devices. Those will be ordered over the summer.”

He wants to get iPad minis for the students in kindergarten through second grade, and Chromebooks for students in grades 3-12. The cost will range from $390,394 to $407,374. The district can lease the devices for $131,000 to $143,500 annually. The decision to buy or lease has yet to be determined.

At $199 for an Acer Chromebook, “We’re not too far away from what some textbooks cost,” Gough said.

He thinks computers will replace textbooks in the future.

“We’re seeing an increased development in digital curriculum,” he said, adding that he sees teachers “not utilizing textbooks; it’s using websites and other technology tools to deliver content to students.”

Another concern is to have all students on a level playing field, using the same devices, instead of one child bringing the latest device and another not being able to afford one.

A policy is being drafted and will be presented to the school board in May to include which grade levels will be allowed to take their devices home and which will not.

“A big piece of the policy is how we’ll handle damaged devices,” Gough said.

“Those are things we’ll be examining between now and May.

“It’s preparing for the future,” he said. “In some ways, it’s become an expectation. It’s important for people to realize it’s a tool.”