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Uncertain future for high school 1:1 computing program
OXFORD HILLS — The district's high school 1:1 netbook program will not be continued next year, but no decisions have been made on what to replace the program with.
Last week, the district's technology Director Mike Dunn told school board members that the four-year netbook initiative had not met expectations.
When the state expanded its Maine Learning Technology Initiative four years ago and offered the program to high schools, SAD 17 officials determined the extra cost of the program was too high.
Accepting MLTI would have resulted in the state withholding more than $1 million in General Purpose Aid over four years.
Instead, the district chose to keep the aid and launch its own 1:1 initiative by purchasing less expensive "netbooks" – small, basic laptops – for every high school student.
In 2009, the district lease-purchased1,200 netbooks for $352,000, paid off over three years.
The netbooks saved the district $600,000 in state aid, but an independent 1:1 initiative proved to be challenging.
"It turns out, it didn't work out the way had anticipated," Dunn said in an interview last Thursday.
"It requires a lot of support. Without the support, both students and teachers tend to shy away from it ... It's a negative feedback loop, if you will."
According to Dunn's records, the district deployed 1,101 netbooks in FY 2010. In FY 2013, it only deployed 723, for a school population of 1,070.
Without universal delivery, integrating netbooks with classroom instruction is difficult, Superintendent Rick Colpitts said, in an interview Friday.
"The access is so inconsistent, because students are choosing not to take the netbooks and teachers are finding the netbooks not be as helpful," Colpitts said.
Dunn estimates the district lost about four years of a successful 1:1 program in the high school.
Even with full acceptance, technology integration takes a long time, Colpitts said – the middle school MLTI program, even though funded by the state, took around a decade to integrate.
Considerable time, effort and funding needs to be invested to make a 1:1 program successful on a programmatic level, Dunn said last Thursday.
Some teachers are pioneers in using technology in the classroom, but opportunities to practice and disseminate that knowledge to colleagues are limited, Dunn said.
"That's only a day, or a half a day a year," he said. "That doesn't cut it."
"It boils down to time and money."
The administration is currently working on ways to give teachers opportunities to work on technology integration, Colpitts said, but there is no firm plan yet.
Repair and maintenance of the netbooks has also proved to be a burden, Dunn reported.
The district charges a fee for students who accept the netbooks to offset the repair costs that some families aren't able to afford, but that still doesn't cover all the maintenance costs.
"We get into the situation where we have a whole bunch of netbooks that are out of circulation and broken and nobody's paying to get them repaired," Dunn said.
The district planned to use the netbooks for three years, Dunn said. The machines are now entering their fourth.
"They will not go another year," he explained.
"They are just wearing out and they just aren't up to the task. They're slow compared to what kids have in their pockets."
Dunn can't say exactly what the future will hold for the 1,000 netbooks the district has left – between 40 and 100 can be retained for student testing and the district will probably put others up for sale to students.
The future of the remaining machines is still undetermined.
Colpitts said the program's lack of success is disappointing, but the district remains committed to a 1:1 program in the high school.
At the same time, he's unsure if that commitment can be fulfilled.
The state is currently reviewing bids for a new MLTI offering, so the district's decision will hinge on what that program looks like, Colpitts said.
Budget constraints, teacher input and other alternatives need to be considered before the district makes a choice, Colpitts said.
For now, it seems, the future of the 1:1 program is up in the air.