MFISD to provide tech to all

By Lew K. Cohn
The Highlander Managing Editor
Marble Falls Independent School District has embraced technology in a big way and by August, the district will be able to provide assistive technology on a 1-to-1 basis to every student within the district.
The Marble Falls ISD Board of Trustees has approved fair-market-value leasing of Hewlett-Packard touchscreen Chromebooks for middle school students in grades six through eight and Lenovo Yoga touchscreen devices for high school freshmen, said District Executive Director of Technology Robert Keith.
“When we begin issuing these devices in August to sixth through ninth graders, we will be a 1-to-1 district all the way from K to 12,” Keith said. “In essentially under two years, we will have gone 1-to-1 across our entire district of 5,000 students, which is remarkable. Our teachers have been very excited about this and have been receiving extensive training to help them embrace this mobile initiative.”
The purchase of the assistive technology is a result of the successful bond election held a few years ago. By leasing devices in a fair-market-value lease, the district can “leverage the payments to actually pay less for the devices at the end of three years,” Keith said.
“We can go out and refresh those devices at that time,” he added. “Usually, the life cycle of a device is about three to four years and then it is pretty much time to replace them after that. With this lease, we only pay what the expected value of the device will be in three years and not the full-market-value. It is much less expensive than purchasing the devices outright and we can turn them back in at the end of three years and continue our lease option if we choose to do so.”
The cost of devices for the middle school students is under $300 per device, while devices are just a little more expensive for the ninth graders. Lenovo Yogas were chosen because they match devices distributed for the first time to sophomores, juniors and seniors this past August.
“With the HP Chromebooks at the middle school, Marble Falls is going to be the very first district to get a new shipment of these devices,” Keith said. “We are excited to be at the forefront of a new product release and HP is excited about doing market analysis and partnership with us.
“Both of these devices were chosen because they have tough exteriors which are designed for a K-12 environment and to withstand damage from falling off a desk.”
At the high school, Keith said the assistive technology program was extremely successful.
“We did some candid interviews with students and teachers throughout the process and they were very positive,” Keith said. “They all love the value of having a mobile device for instruction. Students aere able to complete their high school assignments in a more expedient fashion instead of having to wait at the library to use a computer.
“Our teachers have embraced this and are using Learning Management Systems like Google Classroom. The teachers can post assignments in Google Classroom and the students can log into their teacher's 'classroom,' get their assignments, complete them and submit them electronically. Collaborating with their teachers in a paperless manner makes it much easier for them.”
At the middle school, the district ran a pilot program, issuing Chromebooks to students for the last four months of the year, Keith said.
“We got great feedback to help steer us towhat device to purchase,” Keith said. “Some of our middle school students who were in the pilot program will act as student advisors to help their classmates learn how to use the devices.”
Devices will be issued to students about two weeks before school starts. Parents will have meetings with the district technology staff and will be required to sign forms showing they understand the intent of the devices as well as the district's policies and procedures regarding use of the technology.
“The intent in having these devices is not just to help the student, but to leverage the family to help the student and to get involved in their children's education,” Keith said. “The more parents are involved, the more successful their kids are going to be in the long run.”
At the end of school year, the district will collect the devices back, assesses them for damage and performs repairs as necessary to get them ready for use the following instructional year, Keith said.
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