District exploring one-to-one computing initiative

By Douglas McCulloch | Jul 11, 2018

This fall, more than 1,000 Dartmouth students may add a new tool to their backpacks: school-issued laptop computers loaded with digital software to support 21st century learning.

It is part of an initiative to equip Dartmouth High students and some middle school students with laptop computers in a practice called one-to-one computing. It is still in the early planning and exploratory stage, and the School Committee would need to approve spending an estimated $300,000 in available funds to proceed with it, explained Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Gallishaw.

“It’s a popular technology initiative across the country to put individual computers into the hands of students,” Gallishaw said.

Over the summer, Galishaw and district officials will be conducting extensive research into the idea. The goal is to produce a comprehensive plan to put before the School Committee for approval. It follows months of planning and meetings with students, teachers, and administrators to figure out each department's individual needs.

The laptops would come fully loaded with software students would require both in the classroom and on the go, prompting one of the first major questions about the proposal: what kind of computers to buy. The district uses Chromebooks already, but the inexpensive Google-based laptops cannot run advanced software like engineering systems and Photoshop students use in class.

“We’re driving discussion by curriculum, not by platform,” Gallishaw said.

Dartmouth Middle School is ready for one-to-one computing, according to Associate Principal Carl Robidoux.

“Instructionally we’re ready, it’s just a matter of logistics on what kind of program we do,” Robidoux said.

Last year, the school partnered with the Highlander Institute, a Providence-based education consulting group, to explore innovative technology-integrated teaching models. Some teachers divided their classes into smaller groups and combined both traditional teacher-led and technology-driven instruction into one class.

“With the professional development we’ve done at the middle school, we’ve been trying to push for the use of technology not for technology purposes but for educational purposes,” said Superintendent Bonny Gifford. “I think we’re in a great place now especially at the middle school.”

Gifford said high school teachers will work with the Highlander Institute this year to receive the same training.

“One of the things we’ll do with the professional development with the Highlander group's personalized and blended learning is we’ll be able to show teachers right then and there how to use things in a very effective way,” Gifford said.

Gallishaw said the aim is not to detract from traditional classroom teacher-student instruction, but rather provide students with new opportunities. Some things could change, however, like relying more on digital ebooks instead of heavy and expensive textbooks.

“It won’t be a complete change to how classroom instruction is done, but students will now have that immediate access to the tools they need,” Gallishaw said.

The groundwork is already being laid out in the form of technology upgrades. As of July 1, the district doubled its Internet speed to 1.2 gigabits per second. New wireless access points are being installed at the high school, and a new bandwidth management system will give tech staff flexibility to manage more devices.

The program would be funded mainly through School Choice money. The program allows out-of-town students to attend Dartmouth schools. Outside districts pay Dartmouth schools $5,000 per student enrolled in the program.

If approved, roll out at the high school could happen as early as October. Eighth grade middle school students are also being considered.

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