Making use of technology

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 08:50 PM

Laptops in school systems are becoming the norm, including in Vance County.

But how much they are being used led to a discussion at a recent school board meeting. And a sampling of opinion from administrators and students since then indicates schools are utilizing the technology, sometimes have issues with mechanical performance and have varied degrees of inclusion as a tool by teachers.

One student assured there is a way to use them for learning, and that in using them learning can possibly be skipped.

“It’s a resource, a tool,” said Brian Creasman, an assistant superintendent with Vance County Schools. “We have to make sure we’re utilizing that right.

“Some teachers use them, some don’t.”

Creasman, then as principal at Northern Vance, played an instrumental role in working to develop a 1:1 learning initiative pilot grant, which would ultimately be presented to the Golden Leaf Foundation. The school system picked up $1.2 million in funding from a GOLDEN Leaf grant.

“The current 12th graders have had them for three years,” Creasman said. “We are going into our fourth year starting 2013-2014.”

With funds from the Golden Leaf Grant now depleted, laptops from the 2012 graduating class were passed back down.

According to Creasman, those that are inoperable are replaced.

“We spent the last of the remaining funds during the fiscal year 2011-2012,” said Steven Graham, finance officer for Vance County Schools. “We have exhausted the funds.”
During March’s meeting of the school board, chairwoman Gloria White expressed concern regarding a lack of laptop use in classrooms.

In response to White’s comments, Ruth Hartness shared with her board colleagues she had been told by a teacher laptops weren’t holding their power charge.

“She had a fourth period group that she was most concerned about,” Hartness said in a telephone interview. “By the time they get there the computers have lost their charge.”

White said she would be making trips to schools to learn more about the situation. Efforts to reach her by telephone and email for comment in this story were unsuccessful.

Stephanie Ayscue, principal at Southern Vance High School, says about 80 percent of her teachers use the laptops on a daily basis.

“The amount of time varies by what they’re studying,” Ayscue said.

Classes that involve less hands on activities lend themselves to more frequent use. Not every teacher prefers to use the computers, creating a variance of time used from classroom to classroom.

“They’re not applicable to all classes,” Hartness said. “Some teachers are just more into that and they want to use them.”

During a visit to Sandra Wiggins’ advanced placement U.S. History class at Southern Vance, every student had an open laptop on their desk being used to take notes.

“It makes taking notes easier,” said junior Anissa Williams.

While Williams uses her laptop to take notes during class, she said she is unable to connect to Internet anywhere but at Southern Vance.

“We can’t use them for homework, because there’s no Internet access at home,” Williams said.

Creasman says students at homes where Internet access is available should be able to connect through their machine. For those that don’t Universal Serial Bus cards are available for check out through their school.

Elizabeth Clayborne, another junior at Southern Vance, says she prefers using textbooks over her laptop.

“I don’t like it because I would much rather use a textbook,” Clayborne said. “With Google, the answer just comes up and you don’t learn anything.”

Lack of laptop use may also be dependent on teachers, who according to Clayborne don’t always allow their use in classrooms.

“Some teachers don’t let you use them because they think you’ll be getting on Facebook,” Clayborne said.

Eric Pierce, principal at Western Vance High School, says administration problems are often created with laptops being brought in from transfer students.

“With transfers we have to reconfigure their laptops so they work for our system out here,” Pierce said. “So some of that gets delayed.

“Sometimes they lost their computer, or they damaged their computer and it didn’t get paid for, so it didn’t get transferred and that kind of thing. It creates some administrative problems.”

To solve the problem, Western Vance has placed issued laptops in the classrooms, which have a lack of desktop computers.

“Every laptop in the classroom depends on the number of students they have, and that way we don’t worry about them not showing up with their laptop, or we don’t have to worry about someone leaving their laptop uncharged, so we’ve eliminated some administrative problems.”

While Pierce says he has some teachers that use the laptops on a daily basis, and students that use them for senior projects, he feels they aren’t used as much as he would like.

“They don’t get used nearly as much as I think they ought to be used,” Pierce said. “Part of that is the comfortableness that teachers may or may not have with using them.”

Pierce says his teachers are comfortable with using the machines, but to use them on a daily basis requires additional planning. A fickle Internet connection at the school also prohibits daily use of the machines.

“Sometimes our tech system is up and down, and doesn’t work 100 percent of the time, so that interferes with 100 percent use.”

A Moodle Server is available on all laptops, a program often used at the college level to increase accessibility between students and teachers.

“I can post documents for them to look at and I can post stuff on there for them to respond to,” Wiggins said.

Students in Wiggins’ class also use the laptops to take quizzes.

“I don’t get the hieroglyphics like I do when they turn something in hand-written,” Wiggins said.

With the current push for use of technology in school systems, administration is tasked with utilizing the laptops, without straying from basic learning fundamentals, such as writing skills.

“We’re on the fence across the state, across the nation,” Creasman said. “Students need to be able to write, just like students learn to crawl before they walk.”

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.