By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (March 21, 2017) — Stephenville ISD trustees discussed changing technology pertaining to its iChampion initiative and the establishment of a facilities committee during their regular board meeting Monday evening at Bond Auditorium.
In his monthly report, superintendent Matt Underwood told trustees some teachers at Stephenville High School are concerned they will lose functionality if they go from MacBook Air to iPad when devices are rolled out at SHS in August.
“I think we need to be dedicated and committed to properly outfit those classrooms that want and need to be outfitted with extra technology,” said Underwood, who has put technology in learning at the forefront of his district plans since becoming superintendent three years ago. “We’re still going to definitely provide those computer stations within those classrooms that need it, so I think it’s the best of both worlds.”
Students at Hook Elementary, Gilbert Intermediate and Henderson Junior High were issued various models of Apple iPads during a gradual rollout of the iChampion digital learning initiative. The high school is the final campus scheduled for rollout, and Underwood wants to see the district provide not only iPads on a one-to-one basis and MacBook Airs where possible, but to integrate the devices with complete digital learning management systems such as itslearning or IBM Watson.
“We’ve seen brief demos…itslearning really is an amazing personalized software,” Underwood explained. “It takes all your data, creates a learning profile and even gives teachers the percentage possibility that a student will pass a test based on the individual’s content mastery. The data provided suggests that its resources are pretty amazing.”
Based in Norway, itslearning AS has grown to be the largest learning platform in Europe and is growing in popularity in the United States.
Underwood was also impressed with IBM Watson.
“After we saw itslearning I thought I’d seen it all,” he told trustees. “Then we saw IBM Watson.”
The IBM website describes the high-tech product: “An IBM MobileFirst for iOS app for education, IBM Watson Element provides teachers a single 360-degree view of students by consolidating various academic, social, and behavioral data sources. These insights generate suggestions on how best to help each student so they receive targeted support in the classroom more quickly.”
Underwood explained to trustees Watson is known for its artificial intelligence software that its most notable success has been in health care,.
“Where they have made their biggest play has been health care…and now they are bringing that technology to education,” he said. “Watson can create larger student profiles, find their interests and what kind of learner a student is and mesh that to put together a learner profile…so when we put forward a math problem it comes across in a way that is customized for that student.”
Underwood said the cost of installing IBM Watson would be about $100,000 compared to $30,000 for itslearning, and noted that both have yearly fees per student – $10 for Watson and $7.50 for itslearning.
“Today, itslearning has more of what we want,” Underwood said. “The problem is what is the potential of Watson, and is it going to be what we want tomorrow?”
In suburban Dallas, Coppell ISD is piloting a test launch of IBM Watson where teachers are communicating with software engineers what they want to see. Underwood is following the progress of the pilot program.
A more pressing concern for the district is deciding what devices to roll out at the high school in August. Shelby Womack, district executive director of technology and digital learning, said all eyes in the tech industry are on Apple, waiting to see what the tech giant rolls out next.
“There is a lot of rumor and speculation that Apple will have its next event in early April, and some speculation they will drop the iPad Air and move to iPad Pro,” Womack explained. “We’re waiting to see what they do before we try to decide what is best for us.”
Womack noted he hopes to have a recommendation soon concerning devices at the high school, so that trustees can authorize purchase in time for teachers to familiarize themselves with the device and pertinent software before the new school year begins. He said ideally teachers would be issued devices in May before being dismissed for the summer, but if that is not possible, he would like to at least have them ready for teachers to pick up by July.
Trustees began the meeting with proclamations honoring student achievement: