Elkin schools increase focus on technology
by Taylor Pardue
Throughout the Elkin City Schools annual board retreat this past weekend, the increased use of technology in the classrooms and school facilities was emphasized.
With the rise of programs like NC Wise, Moodle, and Blackboard, teachers are increasingly using computers and the Internet to educate and engage students.
Britt Shaw, Technology Coordinator for Elkin City Schools, gave his department’s update and summary for the year. He painted a bright picture, highlighting the expansion of wireless Internet at the schools and the new technologies entering the classroom.
According to Shaw, the average computer usage for the school system is roughly 41 megahertz, with a peak of roughly 68 MHz. Prior to this year, the schools were only running approximately 20 MHz. The jump is due to increased usage of Internet-based utilities like Moodle and ClassScape by teachers. Once the monthly usage reaches 60 MHz, the state will automatically update the Elkin school system to 250 megabytes per month to handle the larger workload, free of charge, Shaw said. Currently Elkin stands at 25.82 MHz a month..
When Shaw first began working for ECS, the system had a 1.5 megabyte Internet connection. Three years ago, that number jumped to 10 megabytes. Today, the school has 100 megabytes.
Because of the 100 megabytes “pipeline,” Shaw said, the schools were able to do things they would not have been able to do a few years ago.
Elkin schools had 700-800 computers three years ago. Today, that number has nearly doubled, totaling 1,300 computers. However, some of those units are old and need to be disposed of. The need for more and more machines is being offset by students and their personal devices from home.
BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, is quickly becoming commonplace in Elkin City Schools. Students are allowed to bring their own mobile devices to participate in homework and class time, allowing students who are not able to provide their own laptops or devices more time on the school-provided instruments.
With an increase in availability, plus additional computers being provided by students, ECS is quickly approaching one device for every one student. Currently, there is one computer cart available for every two teachers to share in their classrooms. Shaw said that in comparison with larger school systems, ECS is much closer to a one-to-one ratio.
As students are encouraged to bring their laptops, phones, and tablets, the board may have to rethink its policy on devices in the classroom. Teachers would have to consider their lesson plans and the intended programs to be run, so students who have a small phone screen can do the same tasks as someone with a Kindle, a tablet, or a laptop.
When asked about security and what measures could be taken to prevent objectionable material from being viewed, Shaw said that filters would prevent most problems from arising.
The potential for risky viewing comes from the use of 3G data plans, where the school’s filters have no control. The need for responsible Internet usage lies on the student. When asked if teachers or administrators have any control over the students’ private property, Elkin High School Principal Joel Hoyle answered yes, and no.
If a student is observed with inappropriate content, such as pornography, the teacher can confiscate the item and the principal can contact the parents to discuss the issue. The principal will not confiscate the item permanently, as some systems do until the end of the semester. Mr. Hoyle said that this was due to the fact many parents want their kids to have a cellphone for safety reasons, and the schools would not infringe on that.
The introduction of wireless devices is still a new topic, and the rulebooks are having to be rewritten to identify the new technological developments.
“Those technologies are not going away, and we need to find ways to make good, constructive use of that,” said Hoyle.
Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe said, “As we move forward in education, there are so many opportunities for our children, and at the heart of that is technology.”
Recently, the school system has made a guest network of wireless Internet available to visitors, although the system is still in its infancy. Shaw said that the first day the network was set up for about 500 devices, and that number has since been increased to over 4,000 users. Wireless routers can be seen under the basketball goals in the high school gym inside a protective case, looking similar to a smoke detector.
Elkin City Schools had to relocate its annual Board Retreat Friday, Feb. 22nd, due to inclement weather conditions. The yearly meeting was slated to be held at the Elkin Center of Surry Community College, where Highway 268 Bypass and Bridge Street meet. Instead, due to closings by SCC, the board met at the Central Office off West Spring Street.
To contact Taylor Pardue, call 336-835-1513 ext. 15, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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