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High-Tech Learning

Technology in the classroom can help students collaborate in real time, learn at their own pace and use innovative tools and techniques. Technology can transform the ability of students with learning disabilities such as autism to communicate.

But whether students in local school districts have access to state-of-the-art technology depends on whether district voters are willing to invest in digitizing the classroom. Eugene’s 4J and Springfield school districts present a contrasting picture of what happens when residents vote for or against filling the funding gap created by shrinking state and federal education budgets.

This May, Eugene voters approved a $170 million education bond measure to fund upgrades to 4J’s technological infrastructure, replace aging computers and improve classroom technology, among other things. In November, Springfield’s $62 million ballot measure, which would have provided 15 years of cash to replace the district’s computers and build wireless networks, failed by 3.58 percent or 464 votes, according to the district’s website.

Kim Ketterer, 4J technology director, says the findings of Project RED, a 2010 meta-study of technology implementation in the classroom, show 4J’s fiber optics-based technological infrastructure to be in the midrange of school districts nationally. Schools at the head of the pack are tablet or laptop based, so 4J is implementing a pilot program with iPads and iPad minis to determine if a one-to-one mobile learning environment can make a difference to a student’s academic achievement in core subjects such as reading, writing, math, social studies and science. 

“Because we have so many students, before we roll out anything in the whole district, we like to do a pilot program first,” Ketterer says.

Among other findings, Project RED shows that online collaboration can increase student engagement and learning proficiency and, with proper implementation, technology can save money. Ketterer says the benefits of classroom technology are most evident for students with learning disabilities. 

“For the kids on the autism spectrum, it’s a whole new world for them,” she says, because technology gives them a new way to communicate.

Springfield School District is behind the technology curve, despite innovative efforts in some schools and classrooms. Sixty percent of the district’s technology is obsolete, according to Lynn Lary, Springfield’s instructional technology specialist. 

The computers in many district schools are eight to 10 years old, and their browsers may not be supported by modern websites, causing problems with the transition to cloud-based computing and online collaboration with applications like Google Docs, which students at all levels use. Only some of Springfield’s schools have wireless networks, limiting the use of mobile devices that require internet access.

Without bond funding, Springfield relies primarily on federal grants, which have dried up in recent years, to upgrade its technology. 

“The big-ticket grants for technology just aren’t there,” Lary says. 

Despite this, Springfield is using the funding it does have, including support from the Springfield Education Foundation, to foster innovation where possible. Examples include a program that allows students who live outside the Springfield Public Library District and need extra motivation to read and/or lack home internet access to check out e-readers from the libraries at two schools. Science classes in Springfield and Eugene, too, use handheld probes to collect data — providing opportunities for students to study water quality, environmental quality and human physiology by measuring the impact of exercise and diet.