Florida Looking to Go Digital, Increase Student Tech Use

A Florida state mandate requires that half of all learning material needs to be digital by the fall of 2015, and policy makers are now faced with the issue of how they are going to get a laptop or tablet into the hands of every student, according to Sammy Mack from NPR’s State Impact.

“I believe that the only way we’re going to achieve what they need to achieve in the state of Florida is we’re going to have to have a one-to-one environment,” says Gary Weidenhamer, director of educational technology for the School District of Palm Beach County.

The type of devices the students receive will most likely be decided by individual school districts. The compatibility of technology with standardized tests, online courses and district security systems are all factors that need to be included in that decision making process.

Officials are looking to successful examples of one to one models in other school districts. Mooresville, North Carolina and Huntsville, Alabama have received national attention for piloting similar programs.

And then there’s One Laptop Per Child, which has distributed about 2.4 million computers in developing countries. Most have been shipped to Latin America—25,000 to Nicaragua, 860,000 to Peru, 510,000 to Uruguay—which is why a few years ago, OLPC Child set up an office in Miami, often considered the U.S. gateway to Latin America.

One Laptop Per Child initiated its first transaction in Florida schools at Holmes Elementary School with 500 laptops. The laptops they provide are durable and child friendly which make them perfect for the class room.

“I think the state of Florida can learn from our relationship with ministers of education [in Latin America],” says Melissa Henriquez, who oversees the project at Holmes for OLPC.

Research is inconclusive as to whether or not these technology heavy models help with standardized test scores. There is, however, evidence that it can help facilitate different types of learning including critical thinking.

“It does facilitate differentiated instruction, and it allows the teacher to not necessarily be the sage on the stage,” says Weidenhamer. “But it allows students to take control of their learning and learn more independently.”

The key to success in these programs, say advocates, is full support form the teachers and staff.

“What happens is the culture of the school changes—depending of course on the level of support from the administrators of the school,” says Henriquez. “Every classroom becomes a new version of themselves.”