By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND — A self-described Machead, Demian Singleton projected a picture of the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, for the school board to look at as he talked Tuesday night about the need for a “paradigm shift” at Guilderland from hardware to access.
“There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love,” said Jobs of the famous hockey player. “’I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been.’”
“Guilderland can no longer be based on a world of yesterday or even today,” said Singleton, Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for instruction. “Technology in our students’ world is ubiquitous; it’s seamless.”
For the first time Tuesday night, as Singleton made his presentation on technology, the district attempted to hold a paperless board meeting with four of its nine members using electronic devices instead of the usual binders filled with paper.
“The greatest and maybe saddest irony,” said Singleton, “is the majority of our students can gain access almost everywhere but their learning environment.”
His presentation pushed for making both the middle school and high school wireless for purposes of learning as well as for meeting new state testing requirements.
The balance of costs to make the high school wireless is projected at $100,000; for the middle school, the cost would be $230,000; and there would be another $35,000 spent on bandwidth.
Additional hardware costs are projected at $400,000, which would provide five or six laptop carts (each cart would have 30 devices) at the elementary level, three or four at the middle school, and four or five at the high school, as well as replacing teacher work stations at the middle school and high school.
The board was presented with several ways to finance these costs, ranging from a referendum to working through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Singleton cited Margrit Boeck’s research that mobile devices “expand…learning horizons to any place at any time” and “engage learners on their own ground.”
It allows students to be “knowledge makers instead of recipients of information,” said Singleton.
By 2016, Singleton said, 85 percent of all broadband service will be mobile instead of fixed. He also cited a report in Education Week that a 500-student school can save between $35 and $250 per student annually by switching from printed to digital textbooks.
“BYOD is very much a movement in education,” Singleton told the school board, referring to Bring Your Own Device. “It’s not just dollars and cents but logic…
The days of the box in the back of the room are going away.”
He noted, though, that, even if the district had wireless networks at all its schools to “level the playing field” for students who couldn’t afford their own devices, the district would still have to purchase some.
Last year, Guilderland started using Google Apps for Education, which, at no cost to the district, offers e-mail for staff and students, lets them easily create teams, provides calendars to manage time and tasks, provides full and collaborative word processing and storage, allows for website development and use of video, and provides security, Singleton said.
“Guilderland owns all of the data, tied to a domain we own,” he said. “We can monitor to make sure there is no misuse.”
Google Apps, has the potential for significant savings in hardware, repair, license fees, and maintenance, said Singleton, noting some entire states have adopted the system.
“Every school district in Oregon is operating under Google Apps,” he said.
Joseph Reilly, the district’s technology director, who started work in July, went over the progress and needs at each level.
The five elementary schools use an Apple platform; iPads, introduced in 2011, are frequently used for interactive learning in regular classrooms and for remedial and special-education students. There are wired networks throughout the schools, and projection systems and document cameras in all classrooms. Two to three laptop carts are shared by teachers.
Server upgrades are needed, Reilly said, and, for all three levels, additional devices and spaces are needed for online testing and integrating technologies.
Farnsworth Middle School has a Windows platform only. The school has a stable wired network and interactive Promethean Boards in most classrooms.
“The middle school is in desperate need of wireless access for all students,” said Reilly.
Guilderland High School also has a Windows platform only. The school has a stable wired network and computer labs in both its east and west buildings. The library was recently upgraded to wireless with laptop access but there is no student access to any available wireless networks.
The high school needs a complete wireless project, server upgrades, and new devices, Reilly said.
A wireless high school, said Singleton is “a necessary part of the paradigm shift.”
Reilly also went over the new state test requirements. By 2014, all state tests will need to be taken online; currently a six-day test window is projected. More computers and more testing spaces will be needed to fit all the tests into the required number of days.
Reilly provided a breakdown of the number of sections at each elementary school and the middle school, and itemized the current capacity at each building; four elementary schools will need more lab space to handle the requirement.
“We have to take resources away from classrooms,” he said, likening it to “the tail wagging the dog.”
For Regents exams at the high school, computers have to be impounded before the tests and re-imaged, Reilly said, and then impounded again at the end of the testing period. Breakdowns there showed, for example, if 400 juniors are to take the English Regents exam at once, as required, the high school is short 60 spaces since the 13 lab spaces will accommodate just 340 students.
“This is not all a conversation about online testing,” Singleton stressed.
He concluded his presentation with a thought from the National Council of Teachers of English: “As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st Century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies — from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms — are multiple, dynamic, and malleable….”