Jessica mentioned on her Facebook about SB 89, deemed the “Digital Classroom Act”, which would require public schools to go to a totally digital classroom by the year 2020 (that’s only 5 years away for those keeping score at home…ok, 5 years and 5-ish months since the Act would go into effect July 1, 2020).
I’m sure y’all know by now that I’m a technology professional, and I love playing with tech. However, just consider the time frame in which we are asking all of our school systems to provide the infrastructure (think of docking stations, power, and bandwidth), the security, and the tablets and/or laptops for the students. The task would be a challenge to a fully staffed IT department in any company. It becomes an even more monumental task for more rural districts who may have only one or two IT professionals that provide services for the whole district (I don’t know that for a fact, but I’d be willing to bet that smaller school districts only have a few IT staff members).
Tablets/laptops/e-readers can potentially have issues: batteries dying, software problems, network problems, authentication problems, hardware failure, etc. Textbooks can be torn, become waterlogged, and other destructive things, but it’s generally robust and fairly user-friendly. The main problem with some textbooks is that some of the material becomes outdated fairly quickly. In our fast-pace technological society, I can see why there is a want to have our classrooms become digital. It makes it more flexible to teach with up-to-date material…..of course, that depends on the textbook vendor. As Jessica mentioned, some college textbooks had no significant difference between the paper and electronic copies. I can attest to that when I saw the electronic copies of some of my college textbooks were roughly the same as the paper copy ten years ago.
I’m not saying the idea of a digital classroom is bad. It’s not. In fact, it would be an opportunity to provide students with a richer education experience: supplemental videos, tutorials that can learn what the student really knows and provide instruction materials based on that knowledge, and other interactive things that engage the student. The issue I can see with this the price tag and passing that responsibility to the local school districts.
To my friends in the senate, I’d like you to ask yourself a few questions before pressing the big green or red button today: If you believe it’s a good idea, will you be willing to allocate funds to local school districts to ensure the successful deployment? How will we get those funds? Are you willing to ask your local school districts to raise property taxes or use an E-SPLOST to provide that funding? Remember, it’s not just buying the hardware and digital materials, it’s also making sure you have enough people on staff (or contracted out) to make sure the stuff works on a daily basis. It’s the whole IT infrastructure mantra of “we make sure the lights stay on and that the trains run on time”.
It’s an admirable idea, but it’s not something that needs to be half-baked. If the state wants it, then the state needs to stand behind the idea and not just pass the buck to local school districts and their respective boards.