Portage Township Schools is the latest local district to consider a one-to-one computer initiative, that is, supplying each student with a tablet, laptop or other technological device for educational purposes.
State officials say more than half the school districts across the state are using tablets in the classroom, a nimble, multipurpose machine surging in popularity across the country.
Jay Drew, director of technology for Portage Township Schools, said the district is in the "research" phase.
"We have a district committee made up of teachers and administrators," he said. "We've been talking for nearly a year. We have come up with a list of curricular and instructional needs that need to be addressed. Our next step is to look at actual devices to see how they will fit that curricular need. The one-to-one initiative will be for students in grades six through 12."
More than a dozen other schools in Northwest Indiana already have launched one-to-one efforts including MSD Boone Township, Porter Township School Corp., Crown Point Community School Corp., Tri-Creek School Corp., School City of Hobart and School Town of Munster. MSD Boone Township conducts a pilot project.
Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said the district's computers are old and they invested in 3,700 computers this year. She said students in the New Tech High School, housed at the Gary Area Career Center, have a one-to-one environment. She said the district is working to close the "digital divide."
Pruitt said the plan includes giving old computers away to students and the community next year.
Portage schools' Drew said the district's committee is looking at the different technology to see what best fits teacher and student needs. He said that includes tablets, notebooks, chrome books, iPads, netbooks, surface — in short, everything that's out there. He said the district already has upgraded its infrastructure but may have to tweak a few things.
He said the cost of the devices will depend on what the district decides to do, but "it won't be cheap."
Drew said he's also been working closely with Tri-Creek technology Director Jay Blackman, a district that conducted a successful technology implementation.
"It's going to depend on a lot of things coming together at the right time," Drew said. "We want to get the devices to our teachers first so they know how to use it. If we can do that soon, students will follow. We're talking about 2,500 students in grades six through 12. The hope is that we'll eventually be able to move to the elementary. A few teachers already have been piloting laptops in their classrooms."
Timothy Pirowski, who teaches sixth grade language arts at Willowcreek Middle School in Portage, is one of the teachers who is piloting the laptops.
"At first students were very excited to learn they'd be doing a majority of their work on their own laptop," he said. "However, they found this new way of doing things very different and somewhat challenging compared to other experiences they've had in school. For example, we do a lot of reading and highlighting of different texts right on their laptop. Many students preferred turning the page of a book rather than scrolling down, but they are getting the hang of it."
Pirowski said there are numerous programs that students use the laptops for on a weekly basis. They include the Tween Tribune, newspaper articles on current events; Boom Writer, an online writing community in which students write short stories that are published for others to read; and My.hrw.com, an online textbook and video tutorial.
Many schools are eager to use the technology but lack funding. The Indiana Department of Education has suggested they divert money from textbook purchases.
A report by the Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission revealed that moving to a more digital model for textbooks would save schools about $250 per student per year.
Since 2009, the state has been distributing Classroom Innovation Grants to help pay for technology. Other programs, known as the Imagining and Creating eLearning Grants and Innovation Planning, provide funds for schools to use technology in classrooms.
Lacy Bursick, Evan Barnum and Brian Weiss, of Ball State Student Media, contributed to this report.