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Tuesday, May 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Eric B. Rux: Laptops give our students 21st-century learning

By Eric B. Rux Riverside School District

For the first time in Riverside’s history, two levies earned nearly 70% “yes” votes in February 2018. The Capital Improvements Levy, what we commonly call Levy 2, is enabling the district to make significant improvements and updates throughout all its schools in the areas of security, facilities and technology.

Some of these improvements (like a repaired roof) are not easily visible to the public, but one such improvement is already making an impact on how our students learn: computer laptops. Starting this past fall, every high school student in Riverside received a laptop and will keep it all four years.

The focus of the one-to-one (1:1) Laptop Initiative in the Riverside School District is to provide tools and resources for the 21st-century learner where technology is seamlessly integrated throughout the educational program – not just a specialized computer class attended separately from the rest of a student’s classes. Every student has a device with him or her throughout the day, all day, in every class.

I visited Bryce Jordan’s English/Debate class recently where the students were discussing both sides of the following question: Is the internet good or bad for society? I was really impressed with our students’ abilities to dissect topics and prepare valid arguments to justify their assigned positions.

Zachary Hepting explained what he liked best about the laptops: “The laptops have made it a lot easier to find information and organize my thoughts. Having my own device is awesome as it allows me to quickly get my ideas onto paper as fast as they pop into my mind. An added benefit for my teachers is that they don’t have to try to read my handwriting!”

Our voters have made a huge impact on our schools: They enabled our students to research online articles, studies and academic papers from anywhere in the world. Our students then cite these sources in the papers they write that are later used to support their side during the debate. These papers are turned in and graded using Canvas, our online Learning Management System. This is the same LMS that most public colleges and universities in Washington state use, including Spokane Community College and Eastern Washington University.

Mr. Jordan has seen firsthand how student learning has improved: “Each student having a laptop and access to Canvas provides an undeniable advantage to students in the classroom. Where students would have to spend countless hours in the library conducting research in the stacks of books, they now have access to multitudes of information through the internet. They then have to use critical thinking skills to determine the credibility of a source, the information contained therein, and then apply that information within the context of their debate. This whole process, which used to take weeks, happens within minutes in the classroom. Laptops help our Riverside students prepare for careers and civic engagement in the Digital Age.”

Laptops will be deployed to the middle school this fall for the 2019/2020 school year. Principal Phil Johnson is looking forward to the 1:1 initiative: “The staff at Riverside Middle School has a strong desire to prepare students to be successful at the high school level and beyond. The most significant benefit of the laptops will be that each and every student will have the same access to a powerful educational tool that will help them to complete assignments, gain knowledge, and improve their skills. The commitment our community has made to support technology for all our students will help them to be successful in the future.”

It is exciting for me to see the barriers to technology removed so that every student has the same learning opportunity as everyone else. Parent Misti Arrand recently observed this benefit herself: “Since my son, River, received the laptop it has made his schedule more flexible. We recently needed to be out of town for a family function, and he was able to complete all assignments as if he was still at school and stay in contact with his teachers via email and Canvas.”

Riverside School District has truly moved from technology simply being something students learn in a specialized computer lab to schools that infuse technology in every classroom on a daily basis.

Eric B. Rux is the Riverside School District information technology director.

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