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Groups pushing for digital devices for every Alaska student

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Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 12:20 am

FAIRBANKS — The Association of Alaska School Boards hopes that every student in the state will soon have access to some sort of digital device. Those devices could take the form of laptops, iPads or other tablets.

Since 2005, the association has been looking into the possibility of a 1:1 ratio between students and digital devices in Alaska. In 2006 and 2008, the association was given state funding for two pilot projects. One project supplied more than 100 schools in 28 Alaska school districts with laptops. The other brought iPads to 40 schools in nine districts.

Bob Whicker, director for the association’s Consortium for Digital Learning, spoke about the initiative in front of business members at the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday. Whicker, formerly the Superintendent at Denali School District, went to work for Apple Inc. before getting his doctorate and starting as the associations’ consortium director.

Whicker was joined by Sue Hull, who, in addition to serving on the Fairbanks North Star Borough school board, serves on the state board of education and as the president of the state school board association.

Whicker and Hull said a 1:1 program in Alaska, which would be a first for an entire state, would improve learning outcomes throughout Alaska.

“It really has the power to be transformative,” Hull said. “The project would be a leader in the nation and put Alaska on the cutting edge.”

More than that, though, Whicker said, learning is already behind the digital curve for children entering school in 2013 and beyond.

“You’ve got kids or grandkids of this age, and they’re all using these types of things,” Whicker said to chamber members. “When they show up to school they’re going to have a different expectation of school.”

Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-biggest district in the country with just under 700,000 students, just implemented a 1:1 digital device initiative.

Last year, Gov. Sean Parnell allocated money in his state budget for a 1:1 program, but the money was cut by the Legislature. Hull said she wasn’t sure if the governor would put the money into his budget this year or if the Legislature would support it, but, she said, the public support is there.

The initiative would cost about $200 each year per student, Whicker said, $120 of which would come from the state and $80 of which would come locally. Costs would go down over time, he said. 

Districts would be leasing the hardware instead of buying it outright, and each district would have the ability to choose their device provider.

“Some people say, ‘Why would every kid need a device?’” Hull said. “If, as a school board member, I said to our community ‘We’re going to pass out paper and pencils only occasionally’ ... folks would be really frustrated.”

Hull said the outcry would be similar for textbooks.

“Parents would say they need those textbooks. Everybody needs a textbook,” Hull said. “Well, these tools are way more powerful ... and yet right now they only have limited access to them.”

Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.

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