Humboldt — A small, southeast Kansas school district whose superintendent became a true believer after visiting an Illinois school is doing away with textbooks and paper tests in favor of all-digital instruction.
When classes resume this fall in USD 258 in Humboldt, students in grades four through 12 will be given HP Ultrabook laptops, fully loaded with digital curriculum and available for taking home overnight.
In kindergarten through third grade, students will be handed iPads each day for use in their classrooms.
Teachers also will be given the laptops to prepare lesson plans accessible by students through their computers.
K.B. Criss, superintendent of the 550-student district, was first exposed to digital learning through a project started by global education company Pearson in a North Carolina district, The Iola Register reported. He also visited schools in Alabama and Illinois to see how the interactive learning worked.
In a classroom in Minden, Ill., earlier this year, Criss became convinced of what he called the “phenomenal advantages of digital education.”
As students took a test on their laptops, their answers appeared on a terminal monitored by the teacher. The teacher quickly noticed that one question appeared problematic for several students.
“She immediately retaught that information, didn’t have to wait until the next day,” Criss recalled.
In Humboldt, the new curriculum provided by Pearson will be enhanced by videos and animations, as well as lessons with digital resources from around the globe and immediate feedback to reinforce the work of classroom teachers, Criss said.
“Lots of textbook companies have DVDs, but they aren’t interactive,” he said. “We wanted the interactive advantage,” both for students in the learning process and for teachers in course preparation, grading and analysis of student progress.
He also thinks digital learning will give students a leg up in Kansas’ transition to new college and career readiness standards, designed to prepare students either to go on to college or the workforce.
While students, teachers and parents will have to absorb the transition from paper books and tests, Criss predicts it will give teachers more time for instruction “‘by them not having to spend so much time with paperwork.”
“They won’t be up until 2 a.m. grading papers,” he said. “Grades will be recorded as quickly as students complete assignments and tests.”
Each school will hold a session before the start of the fall semester to brief parents on how the new digital resources will work and how to help their children take advantage. Students will have access to an academic support lab, and media center hours will be extended to provide before and after-school access.
Criss said the costs won’t be overwhelming compared with the expense of textbooks and conventional materials.
The district’s contract requires payments to Pearson of $134,000 a year for software and professional development for curriculum and programs for six years, and then $65,000 a year thereafter.
But the district already budgets $85,000 a year for technology and $50,000 for textbooks, and other funding sources including grants also will be pursued.