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Parkway sees progress, needs in expanding students’ technology use

Parkway School District is trying to get more electronic devices such as tablets in the hands of its students, especially some whose families can’t afford them.

For more than two years, district students have been allowed to bring and use their own personal electronic devices at school. Students are able to connect to the district’s Wi-Fi network to be able to use devices in classrooms though they are not allowed to access social media sites.

Jason Rooks, the district’s director of technology and innovation, told the Board of Education at its March 5 meeting that the BYOD program continues to grow. But he said district staff also are working on a number of device equity projects.

“We don’t have a district-wide solution to address students without devices but it’s something we’re continuing to work on,” Rooks said.

In regard to district-owned devices, Rooks said Parkway is considering reducing its “refresh” schedule for replacement of some items. For laptop and desktop computers, the traditional refresh timeline has been about five to six years; however, many teachers have complained that the timeline is too long and that the devices malfunction more over time. Newer technology could play a role in how frequently the devices are refreshed districtwide.

“If we eventually went to using only tablets and Chromebooks, we might be able to refresh them in only three years,” Rooks said. “Chromebooks and tablets are coming in to us at a fraction of the cost of laptops and desktops.”

Rooks also told the board that the district’s Google Apps for Education program is continuing to grow. Starting this school year, Parkway began using the program to provide Google accounts for all students and staff. Google apps include Google Drive, an online productivity suite that includes collaborative space for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

“Parkway has become Google’s ‘lighthouse’ district in the St. Louis area, and we’ve recently hosted two events on the program for other school districts,” Rooks said.

Officials said more than a half million unique Google documents have been created in Parkway’s domain on its servers.

“And 11,000 Parkway users have something in their Google drive,” Rooks said. “Our current plan is to allow graduating high school seniors to maintain their Parkway Google accounts for a year after graduation … while they won’t be able to send email in the district anymore, they’ll be able to access their Google archive of work from their Parkway career. And they’ll be able to download their Parkway account so they can upload it to their personal Google account.”

Students finally will be able to access their work without having to worry about (computer) space restrictions and losing documents,” Rooks said.

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