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NUHS starts year with 1:1 program

Chromebooks passed out to all freshmen

Staff photo by Gage Cureton Freshmen at New Ulm High School receive new Chromebook laptops on their first day of school Tuesday as the school district begins its implementation of the new 1:1 program that provides one personal device to every student. The laptops are used in class and students take them home to complete homework and other assignments.

NEW ULM — Tuesday ushered in another school year for students and districts statewide, and at New Ulm High School, incoming freshmen were the first group of students introduced to New Ulm Public School’s “one student to one device” program.

The freshmen are the first group of students to receive the devices as New Ulm Public School District begins its implementation of the new 1:1 program that provides one personal device to every student.

Each student in grades 5-12 districtwide is assigned a laptop, with students at the high school receiving a Lenevo 500e Chromebook for use in school and at home.

“Primarily, one of the reasons that they selected this device was because we use a lot of the Google Suite,” said Director of Technology Michael Milbourn.

Google Suite, or G Suite, is a software set of productivity and collaboration tools with programs such as Drive for storage, Docs for word processing, Slides, Forms and Sites that can be used to create a “digital classroom” where things such as homework assignments may be accessed and completed by students.

“There’s also Google Classroom which is something that we’re really going to be ramping up use of this year,” Milbourn said.

With the introduction of the program this school year, Milbourn said the district will examine how increased usage of these student devices and the 1:1 program will affect classroom learning, and what it may mean for students and teachers in the coming years.

“That’s the thing we’re going to find out,” Milbourn said. “We’ve got some plans, there’s some professional development going on, but because we’ve had technology in the classroom, it’s not like we’re going from having nothing to now having something.”

The district’s career and technical education (CTE) programs have exposed students to a wide variety of technologies and software as well, and by the time students have reached a certain age, most have already been exposed to a variety of tech in and outside of the classroom.

Milbourn said the district will also use the 1:1 program as a means to teach students about technological responsibility as society continues to become more technologically reliant.

“It’s also because everything in our world is digitally connected and so there should be an academic component,” he said. “But it’s also the emotional, the social and how do you behave and exist in this world appropriately. So that’s a part of what this is about.”

He said the student devices, in conjunction with G Suite and Google Classroom, may create an expedited learning process that increases teacher feedback to students with almost all classroom materials stored and available digitally. Through the devices, the students can bring the entire classroom home with them.

“What that is is it allows teachers to create assignments, assign them to students in a course, all those students know what those assignments are, they can work on them, the teacher can provide real time feedback and there’s communication with the parents through there,” Milbourn said.

“But it’s now, how do we approach it when every student has the device and every teacher has an access to those devices without having to worry about getting a cart or a lab,” Milbourn said. “So I think we’ll find out how that’s going to affect things longterm.”

Some worry that the increased role of technology in the classroom and daily exposure to personal laptops or smartphones may be damaging to students’ ability to learn.

These “screen time” concerns have led some to question if the vital face-to-face interaction teachers have with students is in jeopardy.

“We’ve always been cognizant of the whole screen time component,” Milbourn said. “Do we want to have them on there all the time? No, we don’t because there’s still a lot of benefit from the face-to-face and personal relationships and that kind of thing.”

Milbourn said teachers and educators are still going to focus on those face-to-face interactions with students, but are also looking at what kinds of learning opportunities the devices may hold for students and how further tech integration will affect the classroom.

“How do you fundamentally change that experience for the student so that they get engaged with it more and enjoy it,” Milbourn said. “That’s the thing that I think is going to be fun to see and how we come up with some possibilities there.”

“More than anything it gives access to our kids,” said Director of Learning Services Paul Henn. “Our kids have as many opportunities as they’ve had at our schools. It’s just about learning how we implement the best practices.”

The Chromebooks are distributed to all students in fifth through twelfth-grade. Students in grades K-4 have access to updated iPads for classroom use, in large groups or small learning centers.

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