Eden Prairie School District unveils big technology plans for students

The Eden Prairie School District has unveiled its new technological rollout plan to get tablets or laptops to all students within the next few years.

The announcement followed 14 “i-Learn@EP” meetings this fall, where parents and residents saw the district’s technological integration plan for students and then provide feedback.

Presented during the Nov. 27 Eden Prairie School Board meeting, the plan starts in Central Middle School this month and will ultimately leave all students – from Early Childhood Education through 12th grade – to have a computer, tablet or other device for regular use by 2016.

Computers and handheld devices are expected to replace textbooks as the main classroom tool under such a plan.

“No longer can we have 1950s models of education, fixed text books and things of that nature,” the district’s Executive Director of Educational Services Stephen West told the school board Nov. 27.

The devices should also level the playing field for equity reasons, and devices should help increase student engagement and therefore achievement, West said.

“We’re going to learn by doing this. We’re going to make mistakes,” West said to the school board. “ … We’re excited about [the plan], but we also know this could change in a couple of months. So I ask the board for that flexibility as well.”

The device introductions will be incremental. It will start with middle school students receiving Apple iPad II devices, followed by high school students receiving Apple MacBook Air laptops.

Then elementary school students (including kindergarten and pre-school) will receive a device that has not yet been determined.

The plan will start with 155 central middle school students receiving iPads, expected Wednesday, Dec. 5, before handing them out to all middle school students early next year, according to Nov. 27 meeting documents.

Next fall, high school students will receive Apple MacBook Air laptops using the same pilot-to-rollout method.

Two years from now, the 2014-15 school year, the fourth-sixth grade students will get their devices, followed by the early childhood education students’ receipt of the same styled device the following school year.

Annual costs are expected to range $750,000 to $1.5 million, according to Patricia Magnuson, the district’s chief operating officer. The devices will be leased with the option to upgrade after 3-4 years.

Those figures are comprehensive, Magnuson said, and include assumptions for the total cost of ownership – expected expenses such as the cost of digital applications teachers may need for the devices, insurance costs, protective cases and other necessary accompaniments.

During an interview after the meeting, Josh Swanson, the district’s executive director of technology, said the district is going to reallocate textbook budgets and technology tax levy dollars to pay for the annual costs.

Swanson said the school district is self-funding an insurance policy by setting aside money and extra devices should a true accident occur when a student possesses a device.

If something should happen to a device – if it’s lost, stolen, damaged, malfunctions or some other harm is caused – the district will work with the student’s family to determine if the school district can bear the replacement or maintenance costs or if the student and family is liable, Swanson said.

“Typically there is a lot less damage than people anticipate. … Students really really – they value these devices,” Swanson said.

The district purchased strong, “military-grade” cases for the iPads, Swanson said, which will greatly reduce the possibility of damage.

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