Incoming subfreshmen may have school-issued computers for 2012-13 school year
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 2:52pm
URBANA, IL—For the 2012-13 school year, Uni is considering a plan to provide a computer for every subfreshman. Although the project is not finalized yet, the plan is that Uni will buy each incoming subfreshman a computer for the student's use at school and eventually at home.
Although the school will allow subfreshmen to use the computers for the 2012-2013 school year, the computers will still be owned by the school and the subfreshmen will have to give them back at the end of the school year.
"These aren't subbie computers," said Director Jeff Walkington. "These are the school's computers that just happened to be used this year by the subbies."
"The school will own the computers, just like every other computer in the building," Bergandine said. "That is for a very specific reason, and that is the university has licensed software that they can supply for free or very, very low costs." He later added that the computers will have "many of the same programs as laptop carts or computer labs."
Even subfreshmen who already have a computer of their own that they could bring to school will be issued one of these computers. In addition to the free software from the University, this is for reasons of standardization and equity.
"We can't assume that everyone has nice computers and if we ask people to provide their own, I think there are some real equity issues there," Walkington said. He later continued: "When they are standardized they are so much easier to fix and teach on."
The estimated cost of the project is $60,000. The majority of the money will be used to pay for the computers, but a sizable portion will be spent on other expenses related to the project. These other expenses include buying TV screens to replace the projection systems in some classrooms, which would make teaching with computers easier, and paying current students to help with the maintenance of the computers.
According to Walkington, the school already has most of the money in hand, and will be able to run the project without taking money away from anything else. The money will come from a number of small leftover funds, and from contributions raised specifically for technology. Walkington is not especially concerned with the money for this project.
"We believe we can raise money easily for technology," he said.
The administration is encouraging people to look at this as a one-year trial. There are no plans at this point for what will happen with the computers after the 2012-2013 school year.
"Right now it is a one-year, subfreshman project," Bergandine said. "We want to find out in this first year what is the nature of the computer usage and is it something we would want to see extended for more years with the subbies, extended to everybody in the student body. We don't know at this point. We actually want to study that. [...] We're trying to encourage people not to think beyond next May."
The idea for this trial began to gain momentum after the school bought the laptop cart three years ago. The laptop cart has increased in use every year since, and so this trial is being run to see if there is enough computer usage during class to justify every student having a computer full-time.
Although it may seem a bit odd to run the trial with the youngest students in the school, the trial will be run with subfreshmen for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the subfreshman teachers are very excited about technology and they originally proposed the idea of the trial.
"The idea specifically came from the subfreshman teachers, who use it heavily in every class and began to consider it a focal point in their program that their work necessitates a strong use of technology," Walkington said. "And since they coordinate very closely for their classes, they felt as though their program was ready for [more technology].
In addition to being very excited about technology, the subfreshman teachers communicate with each other more than other grade levels. They have regular meetings where they will be able to discuss problems with the computers and be able to help each other out.
Another advantage to starting with the subfreshmen is that they are the most concentrated group of students. They all take more or less the same classes. Except for Chorus and Orchestra, they do not take part in any classes with students of other grades, which could become problematic when some students have computers and others do not.
The subfreshmen teachers are excited for the possibilities the computers will offer them next year.
"I definitely want to get the students exposed more to things like Geometer's Sketchpad, and GeoGebra," math teacher Warren Buck said. "One of the things I find, especially at that age level, graphing by hand takes a lot of time. I think they need to get used to that, but they probably don't need to do that as much, so I think that is a way to save time...I also want them to start getting used to Mathematica."
"There is all kinds of research that says students write more if they are writing on computers than they do by hand," said English teacher Steve Rayburn. "And I don't mean write more often, I mean they get more content, create more content. ... In addition, [there are] all kinds of opportunities for research on multiple levels. Very serious research and very casual research."
Rayburn added that the computers might allow him to do projects with video he has wanted to do in the past, but has not because of problems getting computer time.
To gain more ideas of how to use technology in the classroom, the subfreshman teachers have already attended a conference on how technology affects the brain and affects learning. They will attend another conference in the summer about how to effectively use technology in the classroom.
In addition to this preparation for the teachers, there have been changes made to the school to make it more physically prepared for the influx of new computers.
"We had someone come in and assess the building so that we know exactly how many outlets there are and we know exactly how are connected to which circuit," Bergandine said. "We know now that it is safe for a kid to plug a computer into any outlet in the school. ... We are going to make plans at least in some locations in the buildings that kids could plug in during their free period, lunch, and Uni period."
"Every transceiver in the building was replaced," Bergandine added. "What these newer devices do is increase the number of people that can actually log in per node in the building."
With so much preparation and work being put into this trial, it can be easy make predictions about how much Uni will be using computers in five or ten years. However, the administration is not trying to turn Uni into IMSA overnight.
"I think we are moving cautiously and with trials, rather than trying to bring a vision," said Walkington. "... We would like to encourage people to experiment with [technology] and think hard about it without trying to cram it down anyone's throat."
The computers have not yet been purchased. Assistant Director of Technology David Bergandine says that the computers are "technically not called a laptop," but are a kind of laptop-netbook hybrid. According to Bergandine they will be HP computers; the exact model is not yet known. They will have 11'' screens (as opposed to the 13'' standard laptop screen), nearly full-sized keyboards, and "pretty decent processing power." They will also have a battery life of 8-10 hours to try to minimize the need to charge at school.