Lab will improve access to technology

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cassville High School's new communication arts lab will help place more computers in the hands of students, but administrators have bigger plans to improve student access to technology.

"We struggle with having enough lab space for all the departments to make use of computers," said Chris Redmon, high school principal. "The one-to-one initiative is a goal of many school districts now.

"This lab will offer more opportunities for teachers to make use of technology in their classes," said Redmon. "We are a ways from where we need to be with technology, because we are growing so fast."

In an effort to help the district improve its technology offerings, Superintendent Richard Asbill designated a portion of funding for technology improvements. He then gave faculty members an opportunity to apply for that funding competitively.

"This gave teachers the opportunity to write a funding request that showed how they would like to use technology in their departments," said Redmon. "He awarded funding for several plans. The elementary received some iPads, and the high school received SMART boards for the communication arts lab and the foreign language department."

The application for funding for the new communication arts lab was written by Donna Richards, Michelle Bright, Mary Hagens and Janet McNeill. Although the request was for computers and a SMART board, the teachers were pleased to have their request partially funded with a SMART board and one computer.

"As computers become available, the plan is to gradually build the lab," said Richards.

An A+ writing lab that was located near the communication arts department was relocated to a larger room in the high school. The move provided space for the new communication arts lab, which is located in the 300 hall in the school.

"The room was already set up for Internet," said Richards. "This lab will be primarily for the English department, but we will also offer a sign-up sheet for other faculty members to use the lab. Right now, teachers can sign up to use the SMART board."

On Nov. 2, the United States Army presented the high school with a donation of 10 laptop computers. The guidance department received two of the computers, and the other eight have been designated for the new communication arts lab. The laptops are currently being programed for use.

"This will allow our students to have more writing opportunities," said Richards. "We would like to work toward publishing some of those writings. We have so many students who enjoy writing poetry, short stories and other works."

Currently, students only have access to around 75 computers located in the high school's library media lab, the writing lab and a mobile station that offers several laptops. Computers are also located in the FACS room, business department and industrial technology and agriculture department, but those computers are reserved for classroom work.

"This morning I checked the media center and learned that lab is booked for two weeks," said Richards. "Then, I checked the writing lab, and it is booked for two weeks also. We have such a need for more computers.

"Even with this lab, the computers in the high school will be in demand," said Richards. "Students are not just doing research on computers. Many of these kids don't have a computer at home, so they are using these to type and print their work here."

Patti Daniels, high school counselor, said computers are also needed to complete financial aid applications, register for the ACT and apply for college.

"Today, so many people assume that everybody has Internet access," said Daniels. "We don't get any paper copies of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) anymore, and we only receive around 25 copies of the ACT registration packet. Those are gone the first time the ACT is administered."

The computers that will be placed in the new communication arts lab will also give the high school more opportunities to invite parents to complete registration and financial aid forms at the school, said Daniels.

"All of our assessments and end-of-the-year testing is done online now too," said Redmon. "It is a struggle to find enough computers for students to complete testing at the end of the year."

As the district works to incorporate more technology in classrooms, teachers are learning more about options that are available to enhance instruction.

"Now, textbooks are available electronically, which could potentially save the district a lot of money that is spent on books," said Redmon. "There are schools that are providing students with Kindles instead of purchasing the books. You can put a Kindle in a student's hands for $100, which is what it costs to purchase one book.

"We are thankful for the support we have received to provide items to build this communication arts lab, but as we improve our technology, we may want to look at other options in the future," said Redmon. "We are a long way from offering a one-to-one computer ratio."

Redmon said that he would like to see the communication arts lab fully equipped with around 30 computers by the end of the 2012-13 school year. The lab will be equipped through the high school's technology rotation and replacement program.

Once the lab is fully equipped, it will be used as a communication arts computer lab and a presentation room. Redmon hopes to see webinars and other faculty instruction presentations conducted in the new lab.

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