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Hall County Schools embrace Google technology
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Textbooks can be an expensive, large chunk of school budgets.

Which is why Hall County Schools is moving away from making many new textbook purchases. Instead, funding is used on supplemental materials and making the transition to more online-based resources.

“We’re doing more and more online,” said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “Hopefully someday we’ll get there.”

Many teachers pull resources from the Georgia Department of Education’s online resource center,

From a student perspective, those online-based resources should be easy to access this upcoming school year. Every Hall County student and teacher will now be connected through Google Drive.

“And all of our students and teachers will have an additional 30 gigabytes of storage for any file type and unlimited storage for all Google files,” said Aaron Turpin, executive director for technology. The storage is available for free.

Google Drive offers access to all Google services, including Google Docs, with resources to create documents, spreadsheets and visual presentations. It allows teachers to upload files for students to view from any location, and many of the files can be edited by multiple users.

“The impact is going to be immense on our instructional environments,” Turpin said.

Students won’t have access to certain Google products, like the website’s social networking platform Google Plus. But students will be able to collaborate with anyone worldwide, who also has Google credentials. The system will be monitored closely, and electronic records of all interactions will be kept.

“One of the premises that we work hard on is that we teach our students ethical uses of technology,” Turpin said.

While students will be able to access their Google account from anywhere, there are currently no plans to bring in devices that students can take home with them. Some classrooms across the school system allow it based on availability, but nearly half of the 27,000 county students end up supplying their own devices, like tablets and smartphones.

“I looked in May, and we had over 11,000 parent-owned student devices connected to our Wi-Fi network,” Turpin said. “So there are quite a few devices that students use at home and at school that parents provide.”

While teachers rely on online materials and services, textbooks are still very much the way of life, too.

Kevin Bales, middle grades school improvement specialist, said new textbook purchases have been particularly limited for middle and high school students. Students in grades kindergarten through fifth use more book-based learning, especially consumable workbooks used in math.

Bales said purchasing a textbook for every student can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This year, total purchases of new or consumable materials should be around $200,000, he said, with the budgeted $439,500 also including funding for replacement textbooks. This year, the system is purchasing math-based resources for middle and high school teachers to use.

There is also $265,000 set aside in special purpose local option sales tax funds for purchasing brand-new textbooks.

“It is never my intention to extinguish all of a set budget,” Bales said, explaining that he plans for some funds to roll over into next year’s budget.

As for learning resources becoming less reliant on printed material, Bales said a lack of materials is a legitimate concern, but it’s become common for people at any age to use online-based resources. Some parents even prefer their child’s learning materials to be digitally-based, he added.

“The learning process is a 24-hour process,” he said. “Obviously, we want to make the most efficient use of our time while we have the students during the day, but having the online feature opens up endless possibilities.”

The challenge is ensuring the right information is presented to the students.

“There’s this wealth of great stuff online,” Bales said, “but there’s a wealth of junk out there, as well.

“At the end of the day, it is about the resources,” he continued. “You have expectations from the community and parents to put a textbook in every student’s hand. ... It’s about having the resources to support the learning process.”

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