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Alaska hopes to lead in digitizing classrooms

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 30, 2013 at 12:06 pm •  Published: March 30, 2013
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With today's software, Hanley says teachers can upload work from multiple students and analyze their deficiencies much more quickly. They can choose different assignments tailored to each student and differentiate instruction to tailor the needs of children of multiple skill levels using apps and other software.

If all goes to plan, the 1-1 initiative would be rolled out over four years at a cost of around $15.5 million. The state and districts will split the $200 per-student cost of supplying Alaska's 129,000 K-12 kids with tablets, with the state covering 60 percent and the district contributing the rest. Teachers will be supplied with tablets and laptops as well.

One rural superintendent called the idea "revolutionary."

"I think it's going to be one of the great equalizing initiatives," says Iditarod superintendent Scott Ballard.

But some districts without extensive broadband access worry that they'll be on the hook for a device and system that requires an Internet connection.

Even the state's largest district has concerns.

The Anchorage School Board, which serves over a third of Alaska's public school students, hasn't taken an official position on the program, according to President Jeannie Mackie.

As a parent, Mackie likes the idea of engaging her kids in a way that appeals to them and focuses their education in a way that emphasizes technology skills. But like other districts, Anchorage is concerned that the project will end up costing more than what the state is willing to allocate, at a time when Anchorage is laying off staff due to budget cuts.

"Implementing something like this is much different in a small district," Mackie said.

Parnell's initial budget allocated $5.9 million for the project, but much of that was removed in the House version of the bill. The Senate proposed $5.16 million for digital learning tools, and it will likely be up to the conference committee of House and Senate negotiators to reach a final agreement.

The department also wants to expand three digital learning initiatives already in place — the Alaska Online With Libraries project, which would expand broadband access to some of the state's most isolated areas, the state's online homework help and the Alaska Learning Network, which broadcasts online live, interactive classes taught in other districts around the state.

"When we look at Alaska and we look at our vast geography and the challenges that we have there, we can offer a highly qualified teacher to a student in a small community that only has one in their building, we can offer them a highly qualified teacher in calculus that they don't have the opportunity to have now," Hanley said.

And that appeals to Nell Huffman, the vice president of the Iditarod school board.

"It will enable students, even in our very remote sites, to be on an equal playing field with students in the larger school," she said.

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