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Education

Downers Grove District 58's technology initiative raises questions, concerns

DOWNERS GROVE – The future of Downers Grove Grade School District 58’s technology initiative will be discussed at the May 14 Board of Education meeting, but some concerns about the plan have already been expressed.

District 58’s iPads are 4 to 5 years old and reaching the end of their useful life, said James Eichmiller, the district’s director of technology and innovative learning.

As a result, the district’s technology and learning committee recommends the district “refresh and renew” its 1-to-1 device initiative, which would include additional educational technology professional development, he said at the April 9 board meeting.

The committee is expected to make a presentation at the May 14 meeting. A purchase recommendation would follow in June. If approved, new devices would be ready for the 2018-19 school year, Eichmiller said.

Board member Jill Samonte said she needed more details about the technology initiative, as well as the district's plans for training teachers.

"I've been blown away by every teacher my daughter has had, but technology is not their strong suit," Samonte said.

Specifically, she wanted to know more about how the district plans to evaluate the impact of technology.

Board President Doug Purcell agreed.

"We have to commit to more professional development," Purcell said.

He added the district must better communicate the details of the technology initiative and use technology more consistently in all schools.

"We absolutely recognize that there are areas where we can improve," Eichmiller said. "We want to improve that consistency."

Board member John Miller also expressed concerns.

"It's got to be married to the curriculum somehow," Miller said. "We've got to be really sure of what we're doing here before we do it. One-to-one, to me, does not have to be every kid in the district."

He said he'd prefer to see more money spent on technology in the upper grades.

Parent Tracy Weiner was critical of a technology survey taken by District 58 teachers that was presented at the April 9 meeting.

"This survey, to me as a taxpayer, is pretty weak," Weiner said.

The majority of the 230 teachers surveyed, nearly 66 percent, said a lack of devices such as iPads in the classroom would have a negative impact on student learning. However, many teachers agreed a student’s ability to take the device home is less critical, according to the survey.

Weiner said the survey should have posed more specific questions to teachers about the use of technology in the classroom and the ways it is used to improve test scores and increase critical thinking.

She also criticized the timing of a technology refresh before the board delves into the strategic plan, in which parents raised concerns about the use of technology.

"It seems like a big ask for something, an expensive ask, when there are a lot of other things on the table," Weiner said. "There should be a plan and then buy it, not buy it and figure it out."

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