Archive for Monday, September 14, 2015

Some Lawrence teachers concerned about equal access with digital textbooks

September 14, 2015


In math classes at Lawrence High School, students are snapping pictures with their cellphones.

They aren’t goofing around.

The students are taking photographs of pages in their textbooks so they can do their homework.

This school year, the Lawrence district has rolled out a new model in some math and history classes in which, instead of checking out a textbook to each student, there is a “classroom set” consisting of 13 books. The books stay in the classroom at all times and serve hundreds of students.

Each student has a downloadable, digital version of the textbook. But with equal access to reliable computers and Internet connections variable, some teachers say the model creates inequity for low-income students.

“The idea was to have digital access if they have a device, but not all the kids in those classes have access,” said Pam Fangohr, head of the LHS math department. Fangohr, who has been teaching for more than 30 years, explained students who don’t have consistent access to computers outside of school are forced to view the digital textbooks on the small screens of their cellphones, or take pictures of pages in class for reference later.

“I would like to have a district employee try to do their math homework on a cellphone, because this is so inequitable,” she said. “We are not being fair to our kids.”

Approximately 20 percent of classes, content areas or courses districtwide are currently using digital content, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning Angelique Nedved said in an email. As the district transitions to more digital content, it is investigating how many paper books are needed, Nedved said.

Specifically, this school year, the classroom sets and digital content model went into effect with some new curriculums, including advanced placement history at the high schools and algebra I at the four middle schools and both high schools, according to Lawrence schools Superintendent Rick Doll. The model requires that students use laptops or tablets both in class and at home. Doll recognized the importance of access to devices with use of classroom sets.

“From an equity standpoint, we need to make sure these kids that don’t have a device get one checked out to them through the school,” Doll said.

Currently at LHS, in addition to computers that remain in the building, there are 10 laptops and 10 portable Wi-Fi hotspots students can check out and take home for 10 school days, said Charlotte Anderson, LHS library media specialist.

There are 16 algebra I classes of about 20 to 25 students at LHS — amounting to more than 300 students total in algebra I, and approximately 1,500 students in total at the school — and the limited numbers of devices for checkout isn’t enough to account for those without reliable access to a computer at home, Fangohr said.

“It may be that they have a computer, but there may be two and three siblings at home, so as a parent, how do you choose which kid gets to use the Internet?” she said.

Despite a practice of “bring your own device” to school, many students may not have their own computer or one that they are allowed to bring, Fangohr said. In addition to students sharing textbooks while in class, another remedy LHS teachers are using is photocopying textbook pages to use during instruction and to send home with students. The problem with that is it singles out kids who don’t have adequate resources, Fangohr said.

“Students are embarrassed to tell us that they don’t have Internet at home, so you’re calling out these students,” she said. “The kids can see around the room. They can see who has to have a paper copy, who is taking pictures. They’re embarrassed.”

“And we’re going through paper like it’s water,” Fangohr added, noting that may negate one of the benefits of digital texts, which is using less paper.

Benefits of digital textbooks

Despite only currently being in place for 20 percent of classes districtwide, digital content will increase in the future. As curriculum is updated at all grade levels, the district does “new resource adoptions,” Doll said, in which it buys the digital resource along with the 13 textbooks.

“The advantage of that is when you buy a paper textbook, those are outdated immediately,” Doll said, explaining that in contrast, a digital resource is being continually updated.

Nedved, the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said that teachers throughout the district have indicated several advantages of using digital content. One benefit they have noted is that because digital textbooks can be updated with new information in “near-real-time,” they give students the latest, up-to-date information on the topic they are studying.

“Combine the latest information with hyperlinks to related topics, and one can see that the digital book is much more dynamic than its paper counterpart,” she said.

Another advantage teachers have noted is student personalization, or the ability to take notes in the margins, highlight important text or prompt the computer to read a passage aloud, Nedved said. Teachers also can customize some digital textbooks by adding in quizzes, assignments or relevant local information.

“Digital textbooks can bring concepts to life in ways a paper textbook cannot,” she said. For example, in a geology class, students could watch a video taken by a drone of a glacial valley, as opposed to viewing a two-dimensional diagram or photo in a paper textbook.

More low-income students attend LHS

According to Kansas State Department of Education data from last school year, about 42 percent of LHS students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, compared with 29 percent at Free State High School and 39 percent districtwide. For a student to qualify for free or reduced-price meals, they must meet income eligibility guidelines based on federally set poverty levels for each state.

Fangohr said the more low-income students, the harder classroom sets and digital content are to accommodate. While most students may indicate they have a “device,” some students don’t have technology beyond their smartphone. The small screen makes the text a lot more difficult to interact with, and smartphones are often subject to a limited amount of data usage per month, Fangohr explained.

Matt Ellis, who also teaches math at LHS, said that when some of his fellow math teachers did an anonymous poll of their students using index cards, about 20 percent indicated they had consistent access to both a computer (not a smartphone) and Internet at home.

“If our district had enough iPads or MacBooks, then it would make sense to have this discussion with digital textbooks,” Ellis said. “I think we’re trying to be too cutting edge too fast, without having the resources.”

The possibility of more computers

While an official student-device ratio in the district is currently being tabulated and should be available this week, Doll said, the hope is to someday soon have that ratio at one-to-one.

Fangohr said that while she can see some of the advantages of digital textbooks, in order for them to benefit students, reliable access to a computer and the Internet need to be guaranteed.

“We have to go one-to-one,” she said, noting that in the meantime, teachers are going to try to make it work. “I worry about the failures of these kids if they aren’t going to go home and do their homework.”

Doll noted that a few nearby districts have adopted a one-to-one ratio, and that the district will consider doing so, especially as more digital content is added. In the short term, if the 10 portable Wi-Fi hotspots currently being piloted at LHS are helpful, Doll said the district will buy more.

“The frustration for teachers (in moving to digital content) — we’re going to solve that by getting those kids devices,” Doll said.


Amy Sanchez 2 years, 8 months ago

Even if the kids do have Internet access, the online login hasn't worked since school started. This is a failed experiment that is stifling their education.

Chris Bohling 2 years, 8 months ago

No, it's the right direction. The digital future is inevitable and we need to be moving towards that now or get caught napping later. The execution may be poor do to lack of funding (and probably lack of experience) but they had to get the ball rolling somehow.

Joshua Montgomery 2 years, 8 months ago

Hmmmm. Maybe the city should have supported the Freenet Kids initiative in 2007 that would have provided a city wide network, fiber ring and free service for every student in USD497.


Amy Varoli Elliott 2 years, 8 months ago

from the man who couldn't hold his end of the rope and is looking for another free payday from the taxpayers

Theodore Calvin 2 years, 8 months ago

For someone who wants to represent the community and is looking to be a leader, all I ever see/hear from Mr. Montgomery are snide remarks & an immature rapport with many of the folks that he wanted to "lead." Old saying: "You get more flies with honey than vinegar." Yes Josh, we understand you're sore about the city not funding your business. I for one am glad the city decided not to work with you. If you run your business like you interact with people on this comment board then I feel like the right decision was made.

Chris Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

It's not just a matter of "digital divide". Our family computer died just at the start of the school year and we've been struggling to get two FSHS high school students online to get what they need STAT for classes. Some stress at times, but at least we have the resources to address this eventually.

A related issue -- to my eye as a parent and KU professor who also utilizes online course tools -- is the multiplicity of websites and content platforms that USD 497 teachers are using to provide online content. Some teachers use one particular tool that students link to in one particular way, other teachers use something else, others something else entirely. I know that tools like Blackboard are not universally loved by teachers and students, but a common architecture for reliably and intuitively providing online content to students would be a big improvement over the patchwork of diverse online routes, sites, and tools now employed.

Lawrence Freeman 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm all in favor of digital textbooks, but that is not what we have here. Seems to me the district is trying to put the cart before the horse.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 8 months ago

Is there research to indicate that students learn better when their resources are digital?

Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

A 4GB tablet filled with 3,500 e-books weighs a billionth of a billionth of a gram more than if it were empty of data - a difference that is approximately the same weight as a molecule of DNA. The same number of physical books would weigh about two tons.

Students who used an interactive, digital version of an Algebra 1 textbook for Apple's iPad in California's Riverside Unified School District in 2012 scored 20 percent higher on standardized tests vs. students who learned with print textbooks.

During the 2011-12 school year more than 13,700 US children, aged 5 to 18, were treated in hospitals and doctors' offices for backpack-related injuries (5,000 in emergency rooms) such as contusions, sprains, fractures, and strains to the back and shoulders.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 8 months ago

But, I know that people who learn stuff online cannot apply what they've learned to something real. (I hesitate to use the expression "real world" makes me cringe.

Consider, for example, someone who plays solitaire on the computer or a card game with online opponents cannot replicate their games with a real deck of cards.

Chris Bohling 2 years, 8 months ago

Digital textbooks are a good idea but the only way to make them work would be a bulk purchase of tablets for all students in the district, with time and bandwidth provided at school to download the books. USD 458 did that a few years ago and it seems to work. Of course, the school district then has to pray that the textbook vendor doesn't jack up the price of the eBook version because they have a captive audience.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

Might also need to approach a FREE SOURCE with caution until after the books have been scrutinized so as to prevent bogus information from taking over young minds.

Chris Bohling 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm not sure what you mean. Of course all textbooks are scrutinized before being given to the students.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

Yes but the ALEC crowd has been wanting to alter facts to meet their right wing goals so it is possible that an ALEC supporter controls McGraw-Hill of Texas let's say. This was the topic of conversation on a talk radio show sometime ago being led by the Dick and wife Cheney couple.

--- How often are the facts scrutinized?

--- Proposed Texas textbooks are inaccurate, biased and politicized, new report finds

Carol Bowen 2 years, 8 months ago

Kahn academy is a free source. There are other resources, too.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 8 months ago

Kahn Academy is on YouTube. Here's what beginning algebra looks like.

iTunes has some free texts. It has has managed systems designed by schools. Kansas City Unified District is using iTunes.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

Of course the textbook publishers will come out against E books and such.

Books have never been inexpensive so how could a $500 IPAD be more expensive?

IF homework is completed digitally does that save on the cost of paper,pens,pencils and such?

Can WOW corporation assist students who are financially challenged that could be charged off to a business expense? If WOW won't who might?

Tons of dollars are donated to athletics and building construction in the world of college so how can public education tap into that source with an offering of a 100% donation tax credit?

APPLE has some history of assisting with donations of laptops and IPADS - Has this been explored?

More E Book study hall opportunities perhaps for those who cannot afford the necessities?

Surely there are answers to make this work. I'm sure starting out on this type of venture has not been problem free for any public education system ... so I speculate.

Chris Bohling 2 years, 8 months ago

You don't even need to go with iPads or Apple, in fact I would recommend against it because Apple will force you to use their ecosystem and limit the district's flexibility. You can get cheap Android tablets for $80 per student. There are even some Android tablets made with kids and students in mind. Lock the firmware with an Administrator password and use PeekTab or some similar software to keep track of usage. Unless, as I said above, the publishers gouge the district, it'll end up being the cheapest solution by a long shot.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

Go with whatever works best ........

Internet access seems to be the problem as was mentioned below.

How do those students get help?

Chris Bohling 2 years, 8 months ago

Pre-load the necessary materials on the tablets when the kids are at school. Universal internet access is an issue that should be addressed but not by the school district; that is outside the scope of their responsibility.

Amy Varoli Elliott 2 years, 8 months ago

Ok Mr Copy and Paste,

Books have never been inexpensive so how could a $500 IPAD be more expensive?

-they are used for multiply years and districts get a bulk discount on digital copies for students, reducing cost. Also because the books are digital there are no storage fees or fees to get rid of old books.

Teri Kinney-Bishop 2 years, 8 months ago

There are advantages to E-Books and IPads. I do not think there are many people that disagree with that. But the lack of internet access is a real issue in many households. The fact that a student has to tell their teacher that they can not afford internet access is an issue for students who may be embarrassed. Yes, most kids have a cell phone. But they are NOT all smart phones. They may be a basic phone. Imagine reading an AP class text book on a phone.

Also, some students like to hold the book, stick notes in the book, flip back and forth between pages especially things that need repeat reading. We downloaded the AP US History book on the laptop in our household. The continual screen time for intense reading is also hard on your eyes and can create headaches. Reading 15 minutes no big deal. Try taking 2-3 AP courses and your reading time is in the hours each night. Due to the school not having books for AP US History, I spent $126 to buy one myself. There were 7-8 other students who did the same thing in my daughters class. I do not like spending it, but I have the means. For the other kids who don't have internet and do not have $126 they are left out. This is public education. I am not worried about my children, but do not like the inequality creates within a classroom. We think kids want E-Books, but I have looked up many articles that say just the opposite. Couple articles are below. But again, I am not against them in all situations but lack of access is a real issue. I am not saying there is an easy answer but I agree with the teachers that forcing the issue before knowing every kid has access is ridiculous. How about a large book set that is available for check out for the kids who do not have access for the whole year? I hear you can chech out some books but must return them in a day or who because thre is only 12. The teachers are right to be concerned - at both high schools.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 8 months ago

Interesting articles. I do use an iPad often. The disadvantage is when I'm reading something that's more than a few pages. It's difficult to concentrate. If I'm taking some light reading on a trip, carrying books on my iPad is handy. It's also handy if I want to research a term or read background information as I read. I have used online materials when teaching, but never entire courses. I cannot imagine learning algebra with any sense of its flexibility and applicability using online materials.

Morris Davidson 2 years, 8 months ago

Wi Fi in the schools is a disaster. Constant screen viewing hampers brain development, cognition and the biological effects of chronic microwave exposure may cause cancer, neurological problems, blood brain barrier permeability, reproductive harm, etc. There are now over a dozen sperm studies that confirm sperm damage from using a laptop. Microwave radiation from Wi-Fi routers was classified a Class 2B carcinogen by the W.H.O. in 2011. None of these microwave emitting devices were ever pre-market safety tested. When we measured the microwave exposure in my daughter's school it was 50x's higher than standing 100 feet from a cell tower. Science confirms this but the 4 trillion dollar telecommunications industry buys scientists, media and members of high profile agencies. Industry money is the second highest source of revenue that the U.S. "Government" has. How can it be that the FCC is funding this disaster and is also in charge of regulating microwave exposures of wireless devices. Exposure levels in the US are 100 x's higher than levels in Russia and China. What do they know about harm that we are not telling??? 34 Scientific Studies Related to Exposure to Microwave Radiation from Wi-Fi

Rosie Cotton 2 years, 8 months ago

Regarding the internet - we live in an area on the edge of town where it simply is not available. Does WOW have any plans to expand coverage?

Teri Kinney-Bishop 2 years, 8 months ago

I appreciate the district making some steps in the right direction. But I feel that they are still out of touch with the school and community population in regards to the technology, devices and ability to use it on required assignments. Most districts that are moving in that direction only do so after securing the devices for EVERY student.. We are making changes and then putting the burden on the student (who has limited resources in this situation) to figure it all out. I have heard that there are computers after school in the library. The library closes early in my opinion and the students sometimes ride the bus home or have to take care of siblings immediately after school etc... I know cost is an issue. But to take away a book and not know with certainty that the students can access the needed assignments and technology is irresponsible. As Rosie said above, there are areas in the district that do not even have reliable internet period. But again, I am glad to see it is on the minds of the district. I know it is a complex issue with no easy solutions, but more needs to be thought through.

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