EDUCATION

Rachel Dugan wondered why 11 year olds must have cellphones in school.

At Tuesday’s Killeen Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting, the mother of a Union Grove Middle School student, said her child has a cellphone but doesn’t bring it to school

“I have a hard time understanding why children 11 years old are allowed to have cellphone in school all day long with unmonitored content,” Dugan said.

She has been told that cellphones are used as a learning tool, to photograph notes, rather than having to copy them by hand. Students can also use the phones to perform Google searches for information.

Letting the students have the cellphones out at lunch, where photos can be taken by anyone, frustrates Dugan. She has contacted the administrators at Union Grove, expressing her confusion regarding the posters at the school entrance prohibiting photographs or video from being taken.

Dugan informed the board that, despite medical recommendations for youngsters and screen time on computers and mobile devices, encouraging students to use cellphones all day can lead to addiction.

“Why are we addicting them at such a young age?” Dugan said.

Many school districts do, in fact, allow use of cellphones, laptops and other devices. The districts are moving toward a greater use of technology both for teachers and students.

KISD has invested considerable sums in multiple ongoing programs which require more and more access to the internet and apps.

As KISD board member Susan Jones pointed out, these technological advances may be laudable, but those who don’t have such devices could be left behind.

KISD Superintendent John Craft said schools have “lending libraries” where students can check out a refurbished laptop, and computer labs they can visit to do the required work.

Jones countered that those students still wouldn’t have access at home, creating a “significant disadvantage”.

“There’s still going to have to be that paper copy,” Jones said.

One of the programs KISD is currently promoting is called Schoology. It is described as an “online Learning Management System,” according to information presented by Helen Mowers, executive director for Technology Services, at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Schoology’s website describes it as “a learning management system that has all the tools your institution needs to create engaging content, design lessons, and assess student understanding.”

This is the third year Schoology is being used in the district, after the service was contracted in June 2015.

Schoology offers instructional tools, a mobile app, data, analytics and personalized learning, interoperability and assessment management, in addition to communication and collaboration.

The Schoology website claims: “Millions of students and faculty fall in love with our platform every year without any training. That’s because it’s designed with users in mind. Schoology incorporates the best of modern interfaces so it’s easy to learn and access relevant information on any device.”

Craft, at a Killeen school board meeting on Sept. 12, mentioned that teachers engaged in the district’s STEM program use Schoology as their platform.

Eventually, Craft would like to see Schoology being a “one stop shop for teachers in the classroom.”

That goal could take some time, given that many teachers and students use a variety of other apps which aren’t compatible with Schoology.

Board Member Marvin Rainwater asked during Tuesday’s meeting, “How many parallel apps are the teachers and students using?”

Mowers replied, “There are a lot out there. There’s a list of 20 I could name that offer free accounts.”

While Schoology offers a free version, KISD is paying approximately $250,000 per year for the service. This amount is paid out of KISD’s general fund, and could change based upon the fee per student given access to the program.

Moving toward using Schoology as the only app is another goal expressed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Craft pointed out that a planning session involving the ongoing Modern Teacher program on Wednesday will eventually reduce the number of apps.

Participation in the Modern Teacher program was approved by the KISD board at the Sept. 12 meeting. This educational technology company offers “modern learning through digital convergence.”

Modern Teacher’s program is “aimed at helping K-12 school districts nationwide transform their traditional classrooms into modern learning environments.”

By partnering with school districts striving for innovation, Modern Teacher offers ways for “singularly redesigning existing infrastructure to leverage today’s tools and support modern learning.”

The reasoning for approving the Modern Teacher program was presented on the board’s action sheet by Diana Miller, KISD assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

“The district curriculum and instruction staff has reviewed the research relative to digital convergence and has realized the need to transition from providing traditional learning experiences for students to a more modern modality in an effort to prepare students for college and work experiences as citizens of the 21st century,” Miller said.

Modern Teacher claims to have a proprietary “Digital Convergence Framework and National Network,” housed in a cloud-based platform.

“Leadership, instructional models, modern curriculum, digital ecosystem, and professional learning are integrated to produce modern learning environments,” according to Miller’s presentation.

The program claims to guarantee that teachers can integrate technology into instruction.

During Miller’s presentation to the KISD board, Board President Corbett Lawler expressed a reluctance to add to the teachers’ workloads.

Only 50 districts in the U.S. currently make use of Modern Teacher, according to the presentation given at the Sept. 12 meeting, with only three of those in Texas.

The cost for the Modern Teacher program is $148,000 per year, which comes from KISD’s general fund, or a grant, if it is awarded to the district. There would be a need to hire an “innovation specialist” at a salary of approximately $77,000 per year. Implementation of the program would take from three to five years.

Miller admitted that teachers now must deal with multiple systems, because the programs don’t “talk to each other.” The hope is that, with Modern Teacher and the district’s technology personnel, a solution to this problem can be reached.

There is also what Miller called a “learn model” being used in the district which makes no mention of technology, and needs to be revised.

Of all the concerns voiced by KISD board members regarding Schoology and the other programs, Susan Jones had the biggest concern, “It goes back to those who don’t have it.”

For mothers like Dugan, concerns remain for even those who do have access to the technology, especially about how much time they will be spending staring at a screen.

Call Larry Mitchell with Century 21 Randall Morris & Associates at 254 681 5115 or www.HarkerHeightsHomes.com

254-501-7568 | jferraro@kdhnews.com