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Students want laptops, digital books in class
Hall County schools Superintendent Will Schofield introduces himself Friday during a board of education retreat at the Hall County school system’s Central Office. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Hall County school board members gave students the chance to sound off on technology’s progress in the classroom at Friday evening’s board retreat.

About a dozen high school students were present at the meeting, each having time to mingle with board members in an informal setting before candidly talking about ways their schools could better serve them.

“For too long we’ve been educating students to make ourselves look good,” Superintendent Will Schofield said. “We’re from a different generation. We forget to ask you how you learn best.”

The consensus among students and board members was technology’s crucial role in learning. What wasn’t clear was how the school system would go about turning the students’ ideas — such as bringing in digital books and allowing them to use personal laptop computers during class — into reality.

The elephant in the board room seemed to be the massive budget deficit weighing on the state and, in turn, on local school districts.

The $110,000 in technology grants the board doled out to schools in the past year was the tip of the iceberg in terms of equipping schools with the tools students say they need in order to learn in today’s digital age.

Technology director Aaron Turpin is currently working with a team to design a $1.3 million wireless Internet system for all Hall County schools, which is slated for completion in the next year.

Schools are already integrating the use of digital tools such as heart rate monitors for gym class and video conferencing to bring teachers and students at different schools into the same virtual classroom.

“Imagine how much more fun it could be to come to school if it wasn’t so much ‘sit in your desk and shut your mouth,’” Schofield said.

Chestatee High School junior Tiffani Poole brought data to the meeting from a survey of about 360 local high school students that showed students were more engaged in technology-driven classrooms but felt some teachers were not 100 percent on board with the advances.

“I feel like a lot of teachers view using technology as kind of a bad thing,” Poole said. “Teachers don’t view it as a learning tool; they view it as a way to cheat.”

Other students lamented the way they are “powered down” when they enter schools. Cell phones are still banned at most schools, although Flowery Branch High School was given the green light to start allowing students to use phones in between classes, during lunch and after school.

A major question was not whether technology is needed but how to teach ethical use of equipment and the Web without limiting students’ progress.

And how far the board should go to give classrooms technology upgrades was also discussed. When asked what each of their passions were, the students’ answers had little to do with technology and no one discounted the role of teachers in the classroom.

Included in the three-year technology plan would be $1.1 million in SPLOST funding to provide laptop computers to teachers, possibly as soon as this spring and bring iPods to all classrooms.

“It is not about going to technology, it’s about bringing the technology into what we’re doing,” Turpin said. “We are very close.”

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