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Tech Rollouts Drive Rural Education in New Direction, Panelists Share

Panelists from Indiana, New York and Ohio discussed the challenges and advantages rural superintendents face when adopting educational technology at an AASA national conference session on Friday titled “What Does Digital Education Look Like in Small and Rural Districts.”

Ann Linson led a one-to-one technology initiative in her first year as superintendent of East Noble School Corp. in Kendallville, Ind., a district 30 miles from Fort Wayne. Six teams rolled out 3,700 laptops at the same time, an unusual step considering most schools opt for a soft open.

Initially, the community pushed back, Linson recalled. Some factions were skeptical of the technology itself; others feared the expense of having to replace technology frequently because many students would break the personal devices. However, the community came around.

The one-to-one initiative provides K-12 students with a new iPad every four years. Students in grades 6-12 can keep the device over the summer. Linson has found the laptops are useful on snow days. Instead of making up days in June, students do assignments at home during “e-learning” days.

Linton identified two reasons she could implement change relatively quickly: The district’s small population size made decision making faster, and the district was able to finance the initiative without any grants. Recent Indiana state legislation that categorizes laptops as books (and therefore part of the fees it can charge parents) helped “tremendously,” Linson said.

“We suffered relatively few breakages,” Linson said, so that concern proved unwarranted.

Superintendent Steven Baule of Muncie, Ind., Community Schools, also shared his experience. To fund Wi-Fi, his school system uses grants from Northern Illinois University and help from Boone County.

He relayed that positive outcomes on academic performance, discipline and attendance are significant, and all improved since the introduction of the one-to-one laptop program. The most marked increase was an 85 percent decrease in discipline issues. (“They don’t have time to poke at each other when their working on their computers,” he joked.)

The final perspective came from Superintendent Randall Squire of Coxsackie-Athens Central School District in upstate New York.  The sheer geographic size of Squier’s district, which extends from central New York toward the Canadian border, provided additional challenges, but progress continues.

Five years ago, his school district had no distance learning labs, but today 22 labs serve 350 children. These labs or classrooms connect to one another by videoconference, allowing students from isolated areas or other districts access to courses. The tech budget is kept manageable since tech-savvy students work at a help desk in exchange for credit hours.

Squier attributes increased graduation rates to the program. He is also enthusiastic about the district’s new system of microcredits. Like Boy Scout merit badges, microcredits can be earned by students who master a discrete skill such as coding or for teachers who complete a supplemental training module. Not surprisingly, the microcredits have caught on. Students redeem credits for prizes, and teachers exchange them for days off.


(Riley McCormick, a freshman at Vanderbilt University, is an intern for Conference Daily Online.)

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