SB 89 – Legislating The Desire Of A Digital Classroom

2015-02-23 09.27.13
Even us technology pros still have paper books and manuals around.
Image by Nathan Smith

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 The main problem with some textbooks is that some of the material becomes outdated fairly quickly.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.

5 comments

  1. Ellynn says:

    There is a logistic issue to think about here. If you have a standard classroom, does it have the wiring to handle the additional outlets for pluging in 20-35 charges and cords per classroom? How do you get the power sources to the desks? If you have been in a school that has been built in the last 5 years, computer and tech labs are wired for this load, but a standard classroom is not. 10 to 15 units yes, more then 20, no.

    Anything built over 8 to10 years ago would now need to have some major electrcial wiring done under a whole new sets of codes, unless a schools sytem was really proactive in their thinking and had the additional million or so in 2005- 2008 to put in place the needed electrical system requirements without annoying their taxpayers for paying for something they didn’t need at the time it was built. Plus there is the increase in operating costs. I see Georgia Power making a huge profit over every schools electrical use increasing 10 to 20 % state wide. Also the addition of the servers and hardware that would now be required to run and connect to 500 to 2000 devices, dependant on the size of the school, will increase the HVAC loads.

    I can also confirm that Nathan is correct in the number of IT people in rural systems. I can name 10 districts who have one IT employee and a handfull of teachers and librarians who have been charged in handling small issues. There is also the question of connecting to the internet. I can name a few sysems that still use dial up because their is no other service type in the area. We are talking no major cable systems, no national phone carrier. The lines are locally owed and the chances of getting fiber optic lines in some areas are not cost effective to the local market use by any carrier type. Your going to need alot of fully functional smart devisices with full streaming and endless data options, which schools systems are going to have to be respondsible to provide. If conservitives hate the idea of ‘free cellphones’, how are they going to react to free tablets with full data plans for all public school children?

    The state can force a system to upgrade the software and increase the number of units as much as they want, but without the correct infrustructure to power and connect the units to use the tools or the funding from the state to meet the requirements of the state mandate, you are just forcing some systems to have really expensive paperweights that will never run as they were intended, will become outdated before the inferstructure is enven addressed, and end up costing the taxpayers money they already refuse to spend in the first plan.

  2. blakeage80 says:

    For perspective, Jeff Davis county has 3 IT folks for the schools there. That’s for one high, one middle, one elementary and one primary. That is about 3200 students pre-K-12. The guy I talked to said he knows several counties with one IT person that doubles as the technology director as well. He was also crowing that Google’s ed team was coming down there to host a leadership symposium. That’s a big deal for them.

  3. Dr. Monica Henson says:

    This is what happens when well-intentioned legislators attempt to impose requirements on schools without talking first to actual school people to understand the ramifications. Very few classrooms need to be “totally digital.” Hard copy textbooks are one of the biggest boondoggles perpetrated on the American taxpayers at the K-12 level, and on college and university students. However, a mix of paper and digital in many content areas makes more instructional sense. As a high school English teacher, I used a combination of electronic and hard copy media, and I did the same when teaching university undergrads and graduate students. We spend a considerable amount annually on hardware, software, and infrastructure to run an online public high school, and we serve fewer than 2,500 students with 11 brick-and-mortar campuses serving about 1,000 of those–and we use a combination of electronic & hard copy media. We have a full-service IT department. This act is a much bigger proposition than the legislators have foreseen. However, I do think that giving schools until 2020 is a reasonable time frame for implementation of something on this scale, if the implementation itself is reduced to a reasonable degree.

    • xdog says:

      I see real advantages for poorer districts going fully digital as a means to level educational opportunities but by definition, ‘poorer’ implies a lack of funds for covering the expenses of ramping up. For many state schools the main concern is keeping staff paid and classrooms dry. It’s hard to see how they can come up with extra dollars.

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