Times are changing. And fast.
Sanibel students next school year will be issued laptops, eliminating heavy textbooks, notepads, pencils and other class tools that sufficed for decades. Middle schoolers will receive a Chromebook manufactured by Dell, with a Google operating system. The school district will provide content.
The move in Sanibel is part of districtwide push to issue the Chromebook devices to some 18,000 Lee County middle schoolers beginning in the fall. Lee County high schoolers will get the laptops in the 2016-2017 school year.
Laptops, advanced software and new learning formats not only erase the need for cumbersome and static textbooks, but offer far more tools and creative ways to learn, Lee County and Sanibel School administrators insist. Kids using the Dell laptops, for instance, will have exposure to such creative learning sites as the Discovery and History channels, National Geographic and public broadcasting, among some 40 content providers.
Traditional publishers will supply digital textbooks and other learning tools. The students will work at their desks, teachers observing, prompting and lecturing and from home with the laptops, forwarding schoolwork with the press of a button. District software will filter content outside of schoolwork.
Kids without access to wireless devices will store their work and send it upon arrival at school, said Dwayne Alton, the School District of Lee County's director of information technology support. Laptops for 6th-8th grades districtwide will cost about $5.5 million. It's part of the state's push to be paperless and into advanced learning quickly, Alton said. Florida is two years into the paperless campaign and is already 50 percent digital.
The new technology is also far more interactive with teachers, Alton said, allowing instructors to more closely monitor each child's progress, to shift quickly from one learning mode to another. Tests will only confirm what teachers have already documented. Teachers at Sanibel School will themselves be schooled by a cadre of other teachers undergoing intensive training in content, navigation and software.
Visual learners in particular will benefit from the many choices that advanced technology provides, Alton said. Watching a YouTube-like video of a science project drives home the learning impact, for instance. It will also open doors for some children who can better express themselves in writing, which some say is a lost art.
"You could have stepped out (of a Lee County) school four years ago," Alton said, "and step back now, and it would look completely different."
Sanibel School students in grades 6-8 will be given the laptops upon entering the fall semester. The devices are sturdy, with rubberized edging and tougher keyboards. Protective sleeves will issued, and a manufacturer warranty will cover accidental damages, batteries and repairs. Theft software will disable the laptops should outsiders try to use them, Alton said.
Technicians will be available at district offices to help recover lost data, homework, fix the glitches that surface with technology, he said. Students will be responsible for lost laptops, however. A new device would be issued, but the $300.75 cost must be repaid before the student leaves the school.
Sanibel School principal Barbara Von Harten is excited to share the new devices with her kids. She's also hearing good feedback from teachers. The children, she said, will absorb the technology quickly.
"This is their world," she said. "It's such a cool thing."