The 21st century is all about technology, and Wilson County students need more and better training in the use of technology. That was the consensus of the Wilson County Board of Education at the end of a special work session Monday night.
Although no vote was taken, the board members all expressed support for the need for computers and better technology in schools.
Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright told the board that studies have shown that "peer tutoring and computer-assisted instruction do more to boost performance than any other factor."
She proposed a three-year plan to put the laptop computers known as Chromebooks in the hands of every student and teacher in grades three through 12 countywide by the 2017-2018 school year.
The plan would also provide iPads for younger students. It would cost $4.5 million annually for three years - a total of $13.5 million - for computers, personnel and infrastructure.
Technology is one of the areas the district's recent AdvancED evaluation listed as in need of upgrades. Wright said this was another indicator of the importance of acting rather than continuing to talk about the need.
At last month's board meeting, Wright compared the cost of a math textbook at $125 to the cost of at Chromebook at $250 to $300 with a cost of $75 for content. The computer, unlike the textbook, would offer current content aligned with the Tennessee curriculum for all subjects, not just math, she added.
Testing to go all-online
Watertown High School Principal Jeff Luttrell also told the board Monday night that his students, who were all issued computers last fall, were able to take advantage of having teachers available online during last winter's snow days.
He also pointed out that the educational software is available even to those students who can't access the Internet from home. "The Google platform still works offline," he said. "And teachers may be able to record class lectures for students, too. It would be better with the Internet, but it still helps without it."
West Wilson Middle School Principal Wendell Marlowe pointed out that without more computers, his school would need to use its computer labs exclusively for testing and assessment next year because state law now requires all testing to be done online. Statewide assessment testing will only be available online starting with the next school year, he added.
The only trouble is "we only have 130 computers for 1,500 students," Marlowe said.
Would reduce overcrowding
Another advantage that technology offers, Wright noted, is that all existing computer labs could become needed classrooms when all students have laptops. Those extra classrooms could help ease crowding in the schools.
She added that some parents have been concerned, saying they didn't want their child on the Internet, but she added that it's too late, because most already have access somewhere.
Computers for all students are only one part of the plan, Wright said. "This is just a tool - teachers need to be trained how to use this technology, too. It's not a panacea; it's only a tool."
Another issue, according to Wright, is inequity. Some schools have much better technology than others. "Some schools have the technology, and some don't," she said. "We have students with access and students without."
This may be because the result of Parent Teacher Organizations' efforts to raise money for computers for their schools, indicating support for added technology.
Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.