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Every city middle, high-school student to get tablet computer [The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va.]
[May 16, 2011]

Every city middle, high-school student to get tablet computer [The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va.]

(Daily Progress, The (Charlottesville, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 16--Beginning next school year, Charlottesville students will be able to download assignments during class, then crank out their nightly homework using school-issued tablet computers with rollup keyboards that can fit in a backpack.

The city schools' BLAST initiative, which stands for Blended Learning to Advance Student Thinking, is an effort to reduce reliance on printed textbooks and enhance the learning experience by putting a tablet in the hands of every middle and high-school student.

School officials are still working to finalize the specifics of how the plan will be implemented, but more details are beginning to emerge.

Dean Jadlowski, the division's director of technology, recently informed the School Board that he plans to provide students with Windows 7 tablet computers, complete with a protective case, stylus and keyboard.

In an interview, Jadlowski said he expects students will use the tablets to do Internet research, run word processing programs, browse digital textbooks and access the school's learning system.

"They'll have all aspects of content research, content creation and interaction with the teacher through their tablet," he said.

Jadlowski wouldn't say how much each tablet might cost because he's still in the process of negotiating a price with vendors. Jadlowski has said he'd like to keep the program's initial expenses below $1 million.

The tablets will be purchased over the summer for fall distribution. They will be distributed to Charlottesville High by October, Buford Middle by November and Walker Upper Elementary in monthly increments.

Jadlowski said the idea came about when school officials started looking at the amount of money spent on textbooks and wondered if those dollars could be better spent on new technology.

"We can take that money from textbooks and apply it to computers to basically start moving the district away from its reliance on textbooks and the traditional paper format," Jadlowski said.

The machines will have the same controls that currently exist on school computers. Internet filtering will be in place and the ability to install software or make changes to the computer's base setup will be locked down.

Though digitizing school assignments could open the door to "the computer ate my homework" excuses, students will be expected to have their tablet functioning properly in the same way they're responsible for having traditional supplies.

"Like anything else, it's their responsibility to come to school prepared if we give them the supplies," Jadlowski said.

The transition isn't intended to be just a matter of swapping out paper for 21st-century supplies. Officials also hope the change will bring educational advantages.

"Our ultimate goal is to, of course, increase the academic achievement of students," said Gertrude Ivory, the division's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Ivory said the division hopes that the tablets will get students more engaged and involved in their own learning.

"They seem to be very excited about getting the tools," Ivory said.

Some School Board members have voiced concerns about issues of theft that might arise from sending hundreds of teenagers home with a computer every night. School officials say that though some degree of theft is anticipated, they're confident that they'll be able to respond accordingly.

"There will be tools that will be part of the computer that will allow me to identify the location and recover the unit," Jadlowski said.

The division would not be able to activate the tracking tools on its own, Jadlowski said. The tools would be embedded in the hardware and linked to a third-party service that would activate the tracking when a police report is filed.

"We're hoping that we can enlist the support of the community in helping us manage this," Ivory said.

Once there's a device for every student, Ivory said, and once teachers are trained on how to take advantage of the technology, there's no telling how the computers might be used.

"The possibilities are limitless as to where we can go with it," Ivory said.

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