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Chester County Press

U-CF schools plan rollout of online learning system

03/19/2014 03:04PM ● By Acl

By John Chambless

Staff Writer

A plan to give every student in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District an iPad has been shelved in favor of letting students bring their own devices to school and access a beefed-up online system.

At a meeting of the district's curriculum committee on March 10, school board members heard from district administrators and teachers about the benefits of the LMS (learning management system) that can be used by teachers and students to expand learning beyond the classroom and allow access from a variety of devices that students already own.

There are several learning management systems available, and the district has not yet selected which one they will use. The online system will host teacher websites and be a central source for posting course work, tutorials, communications between teachers and students, grading and quizzes.

While some teachers already use similar online systems to track course work, the LMS will be a much-expanded version, allowing parents, for instance, to log in and check on what students are learning, communicate with the teacher, see grades and give feedback.

To access the system, the district is considering Chromebooks, which are designed to work with the Google web browser. Chromebooks cost about $280 each, and could be purchased for use by students while in school. Other students could access the LMS from their own devices.

The district's technology integration committee has 25 members drawn from teachers, support staff and adminsitrators, and they have worked with other area districts which have LMS online programs in place. The key to making the LMS work is to have the infrastructure and bandwidth available so that each classroom has its own access. With streaming video a key part of the LMS, a significant upgrade to the infrastructure must be made before students try using the system.

To phase in the system during the 2014-15 school year, there will be a pilot program made up of eight teachers from the sixth through eighth grades, eight teachers from the ninth to twelfth grades, and four teachers from kindergarten through fifth grades. The estimated costs are $16,000 for training, and between $6,500 and $13,000 for licensing, bring the cost to between $22,500 and $29,000. If the pilot is successful, costs for expanding to more classrooms will be $17,000 to $26,000 for the 2015-16 school year, $20,000 to $32,000 for the 2016-17 school year, and $29,000 to $50,000 for the 2017-18 school year, assuming full implementation throughout the district.

As part of the program, there will be a strong emphasis on "digital citizenship," focusing on the safe and ethical use of technology tools. As the market for digital textbooks expands, the district hopes to buy fewer print textbooks, but there are no plans to abandon printed books altogether. The advantage of online texts is that they can be accessed constantly by multiple users at the same time, and the text is supplemented by audio and video, note taking and highlighting features.

In a survey of district teachers conducted by the technology integration committee, 80 percent responded that personal device usage should be ongoing and more consistently offered in schools. Teachers who have expanded use of the internet have found students more engaged with their school work, and said that the instant communication the LMS would offer is a vaulable asset. 

The district is selecting a vendor for its LMS, and is upgrading infrastructure to prepare for the pilot program in the fall. The costs for the pilot are already in the proposed budget for 2014-15.