In five or six years, a knapsack filled with textbooks that is the norm at most schools today may be traded in for a single personal digital device.
Parkland Area School District, for example, aims to have a digital pad or tablet in the hands of every student in the district within three years.
That will enable the district to use more digital content, including e-books as a less cumbersome alternative to paper textbooks, and also allow each student to pursue a more individualized path in their education.
These were goals outlined to school board members on Wednesday night as Tracy Smith, the district’s assistant to the superintendent for operations, explained what the district has done to expand its network capacity and its rationale.
This past summer, the district expanded its network storage capacity 22-fold, going from 10 terabytes to 220 terabytes.
That along with a 1 gigabyte Ethernet among district buildings is allowing technology staff to add software centrally while also allowing students and teachers to access the network from school or home with an iPad, a Kindle, a Chromebook or a similar device, Smith said.
In fact, more than 600 personal digital devices have already registered with the Parkland network. Ultimately, Smith said, that number will match the more than 9,000 students in the district.
“We are committed within three years to bridging the digital divide by enabling students to either bring their own device, or, if they can’t afford it, we will provide one,” Smith said.
At an estimated $100 per device, Smith estimated that the district’s cost of providing devices to students who cannot afford them at about $60,000.
The rise of massive open online courses being offered by some of the world’s finest universities and other online resources, such as Khan Academy, which provides free videos on a vast array of educational subjects, was part of the inspiration for this program, Smith said.
"If students can get to the Internet, they can literally get to the world," Smith said.
But the district is also working on finding and developing e-textbooks that can literally be customized to a specific classroom. The devices will become critical in making sure students have access to this digital content, Smith said.
“We hope our Open Campus initiative will lay the groundwork for anytime, any place, any pace learning from any device,” Smith said.