Archive for Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lawrence schools preparing for next digital revolution

December 25, 2012


An Apple employee demonstrates an interactive feature of iBooks 2 for iPad, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 in New York. Starting with the new semester in January, Lawrence public schools will begin pilot testing a new web-based tool that, among other things, will allow teachers to dispense with traditional hardbound textbooks and replace them with "open-source" learning material.

An Apple employee demonstrates an interactive feature of iBooks 2 for iPad, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 in New York. Starting with the new semester in January, Lawrence public schools will begin pilot testing a new web-based tool that, among other things, will allow teachers to dispense with traditional hardbound textbooks and replace them with "open-source" learning material.

Move over MP3s, Kindle and Wikipedia. The next digital revolution that will shake up the powerful publishing industry is about to take place, and it’s coming to a school near you.

Starting with the new semester in January, Lawrence public schools will begin pilot testing a new Web-based tool that, among other things, will allow teachers to dispense with traditional hardbound textbooks and replace them with “open-source” learning material. That is, digital media that can be copied and distributed for free, without copyright or royalty restrictions, as long as it’s used for classroom educational purposes.

“I think this is a game-changer, I really do,” said Adam Holden, Lawrence’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “I think the free, open-source availability of really good materials changes the game completely. Our students now have the ability to access information which is, quite frankly, staggering.”

If the pilot tests go as planned, and if voters approve an upcoming bond issue that includes funding for districtwide technology upgrades, Holden said the district could be ready to deploy the new system throughout the district within two or three years.

Last week, Holden gave a presentation to the board of education showing how the new system is intended to work.

Using their own devices — laptops, tablets and even smartphones — students would log in to a Web portal called “Canvas,” where all of the material for each course is stored. Teachers can load the system with all of the reading material and other content that goes with the course, as well as worksheets, quizzes and tests. Both the teacher and student will use the portal to keep track of the student’s progress and even communicate one-on-one outside the regular classroom environment.

The system allows reading and other learning material to come from a wider variety of sources, including traditional publishing companies as well as a burgeoning number of other groups that are now offering content for free, or at a greatly reduced cost.

Ultimately, Holden said, that could result in substantial savings for parents who are currently paying textbook fees of $97 per year for an elementary student, and $147 per year for students in grades 6 through 8.

“We’re too early in the process now to know what that will look like,” Holden said. “But our early conversations would suggest that if we can find the sorts of resources that we’re looking for in terms of our texts, and we can get our hands on those (online), and at no cost, then yes. Certainly in terms of the course fees that we’ve seen in the past, there’s the potential for those to be greatly reduced.”

Common Core standards driving change

Tom Foster, director of career, standards and assessment services at the Kansas State Department of Education, says open-source material has been available for some time, but the movement received a huge boost with the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards in reading and math.

With those standards now in place in 45 states and the District of Columbia, Foster said, it's much easier now to develop material specifically tailored to those standards, and to share material among districts and across states. "It really started gaining traction this year, and it's moving forward," Foster said.

There are now a number of groups that are compiling open-source learning materials and making them available to educators. Creative Commons is one organization that distributes open-source material and recently began branching out into the educational market. Another is OER Commons, which stands for Open Educational Resources.

In addition, Foster said, the non-profit organization Achieve, which helped coordinate the process of writing the Common Core standards, is now trying to develop systems for reviewing open-source content and certifying it to line up with specific sets of standards at specific grade levels.

With the massive volume of material now becoming available, Foster said, teachers may soon have the ability to select different material that is specifically tailored for different school settings, or different types of students. For example, teachers can pick material designed for an urban, low-income class, middle-class rural schools, and even for students whose native language is not English, or students with visual impairments.

"It's much more of a teacher-led, student-driven kind of system," he said. "It's much more directed to the needs of individual students.

Bridging ‘digital divide’

For now, Lawrence officials are designing the new Canvas platform around the “BYOD” model — Bring Your Own Device. That’s because most students today have some sort of computer device of their own that they carry with them, even if it’s as small as a smartphone.

Under that model, students can log into Canvas and view all of the material through that portal, even if they don’t have a specific application like Adobe Acrobat or Macromedia Flash loaded on the device.

But their access ends as soon as the student logs off the Internet, and that means students who don’t have Internet access at home won’t have the same ability to work through the system outside of school.

A survey of district patrons that was released last week showed 97 percent of respondents have Internet access at home, which means the district will eventually have to make accommodations for the small number of families that don’t, as well as those that might share one family computer among multiple children.

Assistant Superintendent Holden said officials are still working on ways to solve that problem.

“We might be looking at the hours of operation of our schools, or parts of our schools, so that the concept of a ‘community school’ is one that maybe has a library or digital media center that’s open early in the morning and certainly after school,” he said.

Another possibility, he said, is to work with outside organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club that sponsor after-school activities to make sure students without Internet access at home can go there to do online homework.

Traditional publishers

Some analysts are suggesting that the growth in open-source textbooks will be another blow to traditional textbook publishers who have already seen revenue decline as states cut back on education funding and local schools struggle with declining property tax revenues because of a depressed real estate market.

In November, McGraw-Hill Education, the world’s second-largest publisher of educational textbooks, was sold to a private equity firm for $2.5 billion. Some market analysts attributed the lower-than-expected sale price, at least in part, to growing competition from new digital media.

But company officials say they will continue to be major players in educational publishing.

“We still definitely believe in the value of content that is peer-reviewed, that is vetted, that is backed by years of research, if not decades,” said Brian Belardi, spokesman for McGraw-Hill Education. “That’s what we do and that’s what we’re committed to. But understanding that different schools and different instructors have different needs, we’ve built our digital platforms to be flexible so that teachers can use open-source content alongside our content if they’d like to. We have a fairly open attitude toward open source.”


Cait McKnelly 5 years, 3 months ago

"We still definitely believe in the value of content that is peer-reviewed, that is vetted, that is backed by years of research, if not decades" said Brian Belardi, spokesman for McGraw-Hill Education.

BS! As long as text book publishers allow Texas to dictate text book content (in terms of science and Creationism/ID and revisionist history about the founding of this country) for the entire nation's schools simply because they are the largest single purchaser, then it's not "peer reviewed", "vetted" or "backed by years of research".
The Orleans Parish BOE (home of New Orleans), in an act of defiance against you and their own governor, Bobby Jindal, recently voted the following on Dec. 18th of 2012:
"No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories."
I'm all for finding a way around the small minds of small people that want to dictate how people, and especially our children, think by flying in the face of fact.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 3 months ago

Good point. Digital books may break the Texas stranglehold on knowledge and modernity. We shall see.

Peter Hancock 5 years, 3 months ago

Interesting thought, except what's happening now is just the opposite. Texas used to dictate the textbook material because their state board controlled textbook content statewide, and no publisher could not afford to not be in Texas. But now, with the Common Core standards being adopted in 45 states (and Texas not being among them), it seems the Lone Star State has written itself out of the game. Now, what I'm hearing at least, is that material is being driven by the Common Core standards, Texas notwithstanding.

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 3 months ago

This is a good thing. It's also an indication that the best way to deal with right wing craziness is to make it irrelevant, something I'm seeing more and more of these days.

ljwhirled 5 years, 3 months ago

That was proposed 4 years ago by Lawrence Freenet. Commissioners Hack, Amyx and Chestnut sent it down in flames.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 3 months ago

NEWSFLASH: Schools smart enough to go digital....Library continues to be a money pit.

50YearResident 5 years, 3 months ago

The Lawrence Library will be obsolete before construction is completed.

repaste 5 years, 3 months ago

Please consider using open source software to run these "canvas" . Paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Microsoft word,windows,powerpoint, etc. is crazy when there are many free alternatives. When my student's teacher uses a program that will only read other Microsoft programs, that is a problem. How can our schools offer a course called "Word" instead of a course called "word processor" ?

repaste 5 years, 3 months ago

Thank you for your answer Mr.Hancock. I use libreoffice at home GR, it is great. Through the years my kids teachers have had trouble opening the documents on the schools Word/Powerpoint programs. The problem is some software is not designed to "play nicely" with others.

Melinda Toumi 5 years, 3 months ago

Anyone else see the disconnect with using the bond money for ”equity upgrades” but having teachers pick different books for low income urban kids?? This is beyond disturbing and negates the entire purpose of common core. Duh.

buffalo63 5 years, 3 months ago

Using bond money for items that will be obsolete before the bond is paid off seems to be disconnected to me. It should be operational funds. You can use bond money for anything, but using for technology that becomes outdates in 4-5 years is poor money management; which is the complaint the history of this district shows.

LadyJ 5 years, 3 months ago

Will students be allowed to print up the material at school for free? For some students with vision disabilities, a paper copy works better than a computer screen.

verity 5 years, 3 months ago

I've downloaded some of these interactive books through iTunes and they are a wonderful learning tool even for a 60+ person. Push a button and get a video of cell division, etc. You can get lots of free university textbooks through iTunesU and even take classes.

Textbooks being updated immediately and at little cost would be of incalculable benefit. If only three percent of people in Lawrence don't have access to the internet at home, that seems like a small obstacle to overcome. Lawrence is very fortunate to have Freenet and I'm sure they would welcome being a partner in this.

iTunes has a program where you can create your own interactive books.

I no longer live in Lawrence, so don't have a dog in the fight, but I think you are wasting money on a library that is probably already outdated. I think that in the next fews years, physical libraries are going to change in ways that we can't even imagine at this point and that it would have been better to wait a few years rather than end up with a building which will probably have to be completely renovated to be of any use.

Donna Kirk-Swaffar 5 years, 3 months ago

While I only have experience with Open Office as a free solution to Word/Publisher/Excel/etc., I have to say that it has been very glitchy and uncooperative on our network at school. We have used it for three years now and are in the process of switching back to MS Office products. We teach MS products because those are currently what employers want new employees to know. It is a nightmare to have them create a document in Word in the business class labs and then be unable to edit in the same format elsewhere in the school. This is NOT the best place to save money. Maybe someday it will be different.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 3 months ago

This sounds a lot like BlackBoard at KU. I can tell you that not every professor uses it. Some use it for everything (submitting papers, storing class documents, sharing article links, etc.) while some might put up the syllabus, and others don't even set one up. My high school also started using something called Moodle my junior year. Not all the teachers used it, but they were encouraged to along with smartboards that we got with a state technology grant. If the teachers actually use it, then great. If not, then it's a waste of money.

sportingfan 5 years, 3 months ago

There are so many problems with this. So you are going to have kids reading their science or calculus textbooks on their phone? Do you realize how hard this would be? Or will we end up buying Ipads for every student in the district? No its bring your own device. That probably will work out at West and Southwest Middle school. How will that work at Central and South? You are crazy if you think all those kids at Central already have devices. So back to buying a new Ipad for all the students. 600.00 X how many kids? Someone should stop and take a look at how much is actually spent on Text books every year. Trust me they keep the same books for years. Have you been to a school library? They are full of 20 year old books. How long is that Ipad going to last? How many will be broke or lost in the first 2 years? By year 3 they will be outdated and will HAVE to be replaced. This will not save money. It will be unfair to poor kids, who are already at a disadvantage. I'm sure all those kids on free and reduced lunches are going to stay at school late to do their homework. By the way, how many people are you going to have to hire to supervise this? Its a huge money pit, not a money saver.

verity 5 years, 3 months ago

I think there are less expensive devices than iPads that could be used and, if they don't already exist, sturdier ones could be manufactured fairly quickly. The students don't need all the gimmicks on an iPad. (I don't need nearly all the gimmicks on mine.)

While a lot of classics will be around for the foreseeable future, at least some of the ideas behind this is to get new information out immediately and not be dependent on Texas for our curriculum.

And, yes, some teachers will no doubt resist using it as they don't want to learn new things, but even an old person like myself can learn what I need to. I've never used BlackBoard, but I think there probably wasn't a lot of good training readily available. The internal training at KU was never that great.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

I say parents might want to keep a close on this new source. What is in the content?

Are the facts correct?

Is fundamental christian leanings working it's way into our educational material?

Does this take away from the instructors the privilege of designing exams?

What happens if the online source is down?

Is this really "free"? Who is paying for this?

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