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When most districts in the states raced to put an iPad or laptop in each student’s hands.
Wochit

CARMEL, Ind. — “Slow and steady wins the race.” 

That’s how administrators at Carmel Clay Schools describe technology integration in its schools, which is unexpected, considering how many schools sprinted to get iPads or laptops for every student.

It has been about five years since many schools in Indiana started requiring each student to have a device. The 1:1 student-to-device trend, backed by different state grants, caught on fast.

The program varies by district, but commonly works like this: A student is issued a device by the school, and it’s theirs for the year, or multiple years. They take it home to do homework and bring it to school for classwork. It gives them access to their lessons and grades — even during a snow day — and sometimes replaces a physical textbook. 

But there can be a downside.

“When you go to 1:1, what ends up sometimes happening is you walk into a classroom — and we’ve seen this, many places — and you see a lot of kids all looking at a device,” said Martha McFarland, one of Carmel’s directors of curriculum. “And that’s not what we want.”

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In 2016, 67 percent of Indiana school districts had a 1:1 ratio in at least some grade levels, and about a quarter of the districts statewide had every student with a device, according to the Indiana Department of Education. 

Noblesville High School was one of the first schools to hop on the bandwagon, nearly five years ago. Carmel Clay officials said they hung back to make sure they had the right approach. Only 10 percent of districts were not 1:1 in 2016, according to the state education department. That puts Carmel Clay in a fairly small group.

Instead, Carmel wants students to use a variety of devices. So, school officials said the district spent $2.95 million on classroom sets of iPads, Chromebooks and Windows 10 convertible devices for teachers to check out. They bought 1,500 of each — plus carts, software and cases — and an additional 1,100 devices for staff.

“Depending on the context or the task, you might want a different device,” McFarland said. “One size fits all is never going to fit our students or our staff members well.”

Carmel students are also allowed to bring in their own device from home. The district has allowed this, but not required it, for five years. Students are able use their device in classes at their teacher’s discretion.

McFarland acknowledged this “bring your own device” model asks a lot of the IT team and teachers, who have to plan lessons to work across multiple operating systems. The classroom sets should help, she said, as well as the universal learning management system Carmel started using this school year that students log in to for their assignments and grades. Buying this kind of system is a common first step for schools and colleges implementing technology.

“(With BYOD) you have a lot of inequity,” said Noblesville’s technology director, Andrew Swickheimer. “You have some kids with other devices that, you know, don’t work really well.”

Noblesville Schools purchased iPads and issues them to grades 5-12, with plans to add fourth grade next year. Families pay for the device as part of their textbook fees, $40 a year for fifth grade and $80 for secondary students. Swickheimer said it establishes a baseline for learning and gives students a sense of ownership. They can still access other devices in the school’s Macbook and Windows labs, he said.

Carmel isn’t the only large district in Hamilton County using BYOD. Hamilton Southeastern and Westfield-Washington Schools do, too. But both set certain specifications for what students can bring.

At Hamilton Southeastern, only high schoolers have the option while students in K-8 use iPads. Students who don’t have a device can rent one through the school for less than $100 per year. 

While the approaches vary, technology is clearly a priority at all four districts. Carmel officials said they’ll continue to re-evaluate and may choose 1:1 in the future. The four districts seem to agree technology is now a necessary learning tool, giving teachers more freedom to build their own curriculum using open resources and allowing students to explore and research. 

For example, this year students at Noblesville and Hamilton Southeastern took virtual reality “field trips,” experiencing places around the world. A textbook certainly couldn’t have done that.

“Without access to internet, your curriculum is outdated the day that textbook is printed,” Swickheimer said.

Call IndyStar reporter Emma Kate Fittes at (317) 513-7854. Follow her on Twitter: @IndyEmmaKate.

More from Emma Kate:

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