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iLearn: D-87 seeks to improve education with increased technology

Published: Monday, Sept. 30, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:50 a.m. CDT
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(Erica Benson-ebenson@shawmedia.com)
Glenbard South Spanish students, including Taha Sharif of Lombard, use their iPads during class Thursday, Sept. 19.

Using their cell phones during class was once a taboo, but Glenbard Township High School District 87 students are now encouraged to bring their devices to class as part of ongoing district efforts to enhance student learning through technology.

The District 87 Board of Education approved a new policy to establish the "Bring Your Own Technology" program Aug. 26 to allow students to use smartphones and tablets in class, based on teacher discretion.

This latest initiative joins a pilot program started last year in the district that puts iPads in the hands of students in two to four classes at each Glenbard high school in order to test the full integration of technology in the classroom before implementing any program on a large scale.

In Cindy McManus' Honors Spanish IV class at Glenbard South, which is part of the pilot, students use their iPads every day for various activities, such as individual and group assignments and in-class assessments that allow both McManus and her students to see their results instantly.

The iPads provide students with access to various applications and resources and allow them to work at their own pace, rather than following along in a lecture-style class, McManus said.

The district's ultimate goal is to extend a similar program to all students, although what exactly that would look like and how it would be implemented remains undecided as the district continues to evaluate what's been done so far, said Robert Lang, District 87 director of instructional technology.

This goal and the technological steps necessary to reach it are part of the district's Instructional Technology Strategic Plan, which outlines actions through August 2014. However, as evaluations continue, the proposed actions and timeline could change, Lang said.

Teachers who were interested in being part of the pilot program applied with the district and received training. The classes chosen represent a wide cross-section of the district based on subject and grade level, in order to test the integration of technology in a variety of academic settings, he said.

As part of the pilot, the participating students each received an iPad that remains with them even when the school day ends, Lang said.

About 200 iPads were purchased for this year's pilot for $479 each, said Nate Dhamers, director of technology. These iPads join about 200 others that were purchased for last year's pilot, since additional classes were added to the pilot this year.

With the Bring Your Own Technology program, an increased use of technology may be enjoyed by all students. However, the degree to which devices are used is up to teachers and no student is required to bring a device to class, he said.

For students who either don't have a smartphone or tablet or aren't comfortable using it in class, teachers wishing to incorporate that type of technology improvise, oftentimes by grouping students together to share, Lang said.

The district is in the process of providing teachers with iPads and training them to use the devices in class as part of current and future technological intitiatves. At this time, about 75 percent of teachers across the district have received training, with the remaining quarter to be trained this semester, he said.

As part of this training, about 480 iPads have been purchased for teachers who are not part of the pilot program, Lang said.

So far, McManus said she hasn't encountered any technological challenges with the iPads that she wasn't able to address.

"I have always found technology to be an important part of what we do as teachers in the classroom with our students," McManus said.

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