Let’s Get Digital

Technology in the classroom is becoming a personalized experience as students at some area schools now have access to tablets or laptops for individual use. Some argue this could be the way of the future for all schools.

Area schools, like Kewaunee School District for example, are offering iPads to students in fifth and ninth grade. And Roncalli High School in Manitowoc offers HP netbooks for students.

John Stelzer, president at Roncalli High School, said this is the third year Roncalli’s program to provide students with HP netbook laptop computers has been in operation. The program and wireless network were put in place after a donation from benefactors.

“In addition to the obvious advantages of personal computers, we have been very pleased with our teachers and their increased level of utilizing technology throughout the curriculum,” Stelzer said. “Previous to the netbooks, there were students who did not have access to technology at home.”

During a time when technology is becoming increasingly necessary to complete assignments, school districts are finding themselves faced with the need to provide all students access to such devices.

“Considering more than 50 percent of our students receive financial aid, this access to technology leveled the availability for all students,” Stelzer said. “In addition, we feel that the opportunity for students to do research and submit homework after school hours has greatly increased.”

However, the introduction of new technology into the education field does not come without some opposition.

There are those like UW-Green Bay senior math major Jessica Shimon who don’t think providing laptops or tablets for all students in a school district is quite worth the expense.

“I know society is different today than it was when I was in high school, but we all did just fine without the use of a personal laptop,” Shimon said. “I personally don’t think the educational benefit is worth the expense. Most kids already have a laptop, and if they don’t, they have access to the computer labs at school.”

When it comes to providing students with technology in higher education, the experience is not yet quite as personalized. At UWGB, for example, students can check out Kindle e-readers and iPads for up to a week, or they can check out a laptop for use within the library. However, mass distribution among students is still not a norm for the university.

Josh Goldman, manager of user support for UWGB computing and information technology, said UWGB looked into ordering laptops and tablets in the past. He said UW-Stout, for example, currently offers a program for students.

Goldman said these programs for higher education usually work one of two ways. One option is when the university raises tuition at a fixed rate to cover the cost of the laptops provided to students. The other option is when the university requires students to purchase a laptop on their own based on minimum specifications set by the university.

“In both of these cases, the cost gets passed down to the student, either directly or indirectly,” Goldman said. “So at a time when there is a push to minimize costs, we have not any further pursued this. There are also software licensing costs to consider when deploying a laptop into every student’s hands.”

While there is a potential for cost savings for students by using tablets or e-readers in place of textbooks, Goldman said not all publishers are onboard with this yet.

“In some of these cases, the cost is similar to hard copies and the students are unable to resell their e-copies and after a certain time they expire,” Goldman said. “As more publishing companies get onboard with eTextbook technologies and reconsider their licensing, this may at some point become a more viable option.”

Goldman said he doesn’t think it would be beneficial for all students to have an iPad at this time. While he said it has certain benefits like email, web surfing and some academic apps, disadvantages like not having Microsoft Office Suite prevent it from being useful for all aspects of education.

Shimon said she thinks it would be fine for UWGB to provide laptops or tablets for students at students’ expense.

“I don’t think they should be buying them for us,” Shimon said. “but if they give students the option to buy one from them, I don’t see that as a problem.”