Mediacom Business in the News
top stories about our business

December 09, 2013
The Hawk Eye

School District Adjusts to Mobile Devices - Aside from bandwidth problem, West Burlington students & teachers enjoy tablets

By Jermaine Pigee

WEST BURLINGTON - Rodrigo Ramos said having access to an Android Kuno tablet in his classroom helps him stay engaged in class.

"It helps me pay attention," he said. "I like technology and whenever we use it, it helps keep me focused in class."

Earlier this year, the West Burlington School District unveiled its "1-to-1" computer initiative, which gave students a tablet computer to use in the classroom and at home.

Third- through eighth-grade students have access to the devices during the school day. Kindergarten through second-grade students also use the sturdy devices.

With them, students can retrieve class resources, such as documents, audio and video clips and web links, even when Internet access is unavailable. Devices can be updated with new content each day - even every hour.

And while students and staff enjoy the devices, there have been some bumps in the road, school officials said.

Dave Roed, technology coordinator for the school district, said when school started, there were struggles with Internet connectivity in the school district.

"We had nowhere near the amount of bandwidth we needed," he said. "We had 40 (megabytes), which is what we considered a standard network with our 1 to 1. The (Great Prairie Education Agency) and the state also thought it would be adequate."

Roed said it became clear pretty quickly the school needed more oomph.

"Everything slowed down and things didn't work they way we anticipated," he said. "Some students were able to get onto the system, while other students were not able to get on."

School officials then reached out to Mediacom, which is providing an additional 101 megabytes of Internet in addition to the 40 megabytes the school district has from the Iowa Communications Network.

An average of 70 megabytes is used daily.

"Everything is fine now," Roed said. "In the beginning, it was like a traffic jam with too many cars. You eventually got there, but things were running a little bit slower."

School officials also are dealing with regular wear and tear. Of the 840 handed out, 11 have been reported broken.

"The Kuno device is covered in a durable case, similar to the Otter Box for the iPhone," Roed said "The devices that broke were broken screens. The real LED screen was broken and you get that shattered look on the screen when it happens."

Damages came from a variety of places, Roed said, including one student who accidently sat on his device.

"We are not happy with the 11 that broke, but we think it's a really low percentage," said David Schmitt, superintendent. "We attribute the low number to the tough case."

The school board has agreed to self-fund the devices, meaning if one of them breaks, the school district will pay for the repairs.

School officials have set aside $81,375 for those repairs.

"It's a $50 charge for the student if the building principal determines the student is at fault," Roed said. "The second time is a $100 charge and the third time is the cost of the repair. Typically for one of these screens, the repair is $150, which is what we would be charged by the company."

In total, the school district will pay about $617,000 over three years for the Kunos. The money comes from the district's physical plant and equipment levy and its general fund.

After three years, the devices will be outdated, and it will be necessary for the school district to upgrade.

"After three years, the Kuno tablet will be obsolete, Schmitt said. "We will either give them back to the company or we can sell them to the students for probably $1. After that, we will refurbish our supply."

Jason McCollum, a social studies teacher at West Burlington Jr./Sr. High School, said the devices makes it easier for the students to learn in class.

"I'd be able to give different assignments to my students more easily and electronically," he said. "I could just set it up for the students and the information is available to them."

He also said students are able to stay more organized.

"They are able to find everything they need on their Kuno instead of having everything in their notebook," McCollum said. "I can also communicate with the students through the devices."

McCollum said his students use the Kunos about 85 percent of the time.

"The nice thing about the Kuno is it gives them choices," he said. "If they want, they can still use paper, or they can do their assignments on the device."

Leah Eilderts, a freshman social studies teacher, said her students use the devices three to four times a week. She also said her students use Goggle Drive, where papers and assignments are stored in Google's "cloud" storage where they can be retrieved almost anywhere where there's Internet access.

"By using Goggle Drive, students can type documents and share them with me," Eilderts said. "I can look over their work that way. I can also type a document and share it with them in class."

Ramos, who is in Eilderts' social studies class, said the devices help him stay organized.

"Things are more concentrated and it helps me keep all of my stuff together and organized," Ramos said. "We pretty much use the devices everyday and I use it at home whenever I'm doing my homework."

Michon Hunt, a freshman, agreed with Ramos.

"Sometimes, I sit near the back of the class and sometimes, the board is harder to read," he said. "Sometimes, the presentation is (available) on the Kuno tablet and I can see it from where I'm sitting."

The tablets come with Curriculum Loft, a curriculum management system that allows teachers to synchronize notes, lectures, videos and assignments to each student's tablet.

With the software, a teacher can put their presentation on the devices so students like Hunt can follow what is being said - even when they are sitting in the back of the room.

While many teachers use the devices, Schmitt said not everyone is using them everyday.

By the end of the school year, Schmitt hopes to have the devices fully implimented in the district, which means all teachers and students are using the tablets.

"The good thing about this is we would be achieving what we set out to do, which is truly interrogating this technology and having it be an integral part of a child's education," Schmitt said. "You really can't exist in today's society without digital technology."

Cited from The Hawk Eye.  Originally published Dec. 9, 2013.