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Packer Weekly: West Fargo takes the next step in 21st Century learning

By Brittany Rheault

The term ‘21st Century skills’ has taken further action throughout schools and educational plans. In past years leading up to today, it was almost uncommon for a family to own numerous ‘smart’ devices. With these new changes, schools are attempting to educate students on how to use these devices in the classroom so students will be prepared for the future. District officials have begun taking these 21st Century steps by creating a new WiFi where students can access a filtered Internet through mobile devices.

“Our network engineer worked very hard this summer to make the access a reality,” Director of Technology Robert Kaspari said. “Many teachers have wanted to be able to have students use their mobile devices in class for project work. It is important that students learn the appropriate ways of using their devices so they can contribute to their own education as good digital citizens.”

The WiFi is one of West Fargo’s first steps in providing students with more access to 21st Century skills, but some students do not see the effectiveness of the WiFi when most classes do not provide the opportunity for the students to use their own devices.

“It was a good idea, but it does not seem to be working the away administrators thought it would,” senior Makayla Ruetter said. “If I am on my phone in school it is usually not for educational purposes.”

Kaspari said it is less about lectures and memorization, but more about how to collaborate with others, how to research and access information, and find solutions to complex problems through critical and creative thinking. With this style of learning comes the difficulty of having enough updated devices to provide to students. Although this WiFi provides filtered access for the students to use through their own mobile devices, the issue of unbalanced learning opportunities arises when students cannot afford the ‘smart’ devices.

“We are going to be trying to alleviate that over the next couple of years with some initiative to try and boost up the number in terms of devices that the school owns, whether it be mobile devices in the future, but certainly computers,” Kaspari said. “There certainly is an issue with some students that can’t afford to have that, but when they are at school we are hoping that the teachers would be aware of that and would help provide them with school equipment to access the information that they need.”

With the technology team in the preliminary stages of planning to incorporate more devices within the classroom, District Business Manager Mark Lemer said there is not an actual formal request for the devices in terms of budgetary dollars.

“When I will see it is when it becomes a part of the longer range budgeting process or an upcoming budget request,” Lemer said. “To date, I don’t know of any specific budget requests along those lines, but that doesn’t mean that they are not at least in the preliminary planning stages, discussing what that might look like or how it might be implemented.”

Although West Fargo does not have a concrete date when new devices will be provided to push the district even deeper into 21st Century learning, Fargo South High School has already taken that next step with “The Glass Paper Project” (GPP), which allows for students to have tablets to use for educational purposes. The GPP Brochure states that “The Glass Paper Project is an opportunity to reflect on the learning needs of today’s students and engage them with 21st Century tools and resources to keep students learning inside and outside of our classrooms.” Fargo South principal Todd Bertsch has been satisfied so far with the opportunity that these tablets have provided.

“As teachers and students transition to having access to a personal learning device, the top benefits thus far are organization, collaboration and communication with Google Apps for Education [makes] it fluid for students to share work with teachers and receive feedback for revision, note taking, [and] access to information and many resources,” Bertsch said.

With these new 21st century skills being implemented in the classroom, Bertsch said that the students can be more organized and efficient in the classroom.

“The tablets are a tool that enhances the awareness and development of the 21st Century Skills,” Bertsch said. “Often the focus is on the device, rather how the teacher and students use the device. Ultimately, the teacher is the primary 1-1 device.”