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Business leaders linked into laptop initiative

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Textbooks like one held by Monett R-1 Superintendent Dr. John Jungmann, will remain part of the teaching material at Monett High School even though laptops are coming for each student. Within five years, Jungmann said the school district will likely only purchase electronic books, giving students access to their study material on their laptop computers. [Times Photo]
Monett R-1 School District officials invited local business leaders to help make the Monett High School One to the World Initiative successful during a luncheon meeting on Tuesday.

School leaders asked representatives of the business community to think how learning will change when laptop computers are placed in the hands of every high school students and what challenges could surface in the process.

Dr. J.D. Roberts, R-1 Board of Education president, said the One to the World Initiative was one of the most exciting projects ever undertaken in his time on the board.

Monett business leaders gathered at the Southwest Area Career Center on Tuesday for lunch and a presentation on the One to the World Initiative bringing laptop computers to all Monett High School students, beginning in January 2012. Superintendent Dr. John Jungmann and Monett High School Principal David Steward spoke about the program and asked for ideas on how teaching will change with the new equipment. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
"We're leading the charge in southwest Missouri and almost in all of Missouri [through this undertaking]," Roberts said.

The session began with a video of children making observations about what their world used to be like, when a television sat on the floor and when a father had to go to work in an office.

Superintendent Dr. John Jungmann showed the group a backpack that students presently carry. In the coming years, students will trade in their stockpile of books for a computer.

"Lockers won't be in the high school of tomorrow," Jungmann said. "In five years, every publisher will be producing electronic versions of textbooks. That's what we'll be buying in the future."

According to a study cited in one of the videos shown, education as an industry ranked 55th in the list of business models altered by information technology, even below coal mining.

Jungmann said rather than memorizing facts, learning of the future requires knowing how to find answers, validating the information, collaborating with others to use the information and solving problems with it.

For example, Jungmann said any Internet search will raise numerous choices, but the first answers are not always the best. Future learners will have to figure out what to do. They will be moving from a teacher-centered environment to a student-centered learning place, where teachers will help students discover solutions.

Jack Prim, chief executive officer at Jack Henry and Associates, said technology is not the solution to all problems and does not substitute for interpersonal skills. Jungmann agreed, recalling how an e-mail could be misinterpreted, when a face-to-face answer would more effectively address the question.

Pastor Ron Stair suggested that having a laptop could challenge a user to balance priorities, rather than becoming permanently tied to the computer.

The difference between skills and behaviors needed in the workplace in the next five to 10 years raised other concerns. Jungmann said Idaho and Florida have required high school students to take at least two on-line courses before graduating to experience learning in a different way.

"The ability to learn, unlearn and relearn is the future of education," Jungmann said.

Prim said collaboration skills depend on understanding and accepting different perspectives. Even now he sees his staff in Monett and company people in San Diego approaching subjects with very different points of view.

Laptops will open doors to such issues as the classroom moves from the school to every encounter taking place on the computer. Jungmann said digital citizenship will be a big lesson. Students will need to learn there are consequences for inappropriate behavior, including losing a job for doing the wrong kind of activity on the Internet.

Employers said they want future workers who can multi-task and function off-site, even without the computer. Gina Milburn, the director of the Barry-Lawrence Regional Library, said she sees job applications today loaded with grammar mistakes. Many applicants fail to understand an employer is looking for useful skills, not vague statements about the "love of books" as a selling point, Milburn said.

Jungmann said the school district would like to partner with the business community to make learning more readily available away from the school. Few Internet hot spots are available around Monett at the present time. Several business owners with wireless Internet access expressed a willingness to share their protected passwords with customers.

The school district is exploring how its unused broadband capacity may be used to create more areas with free Internet access around town. Jungmann said businesses can help make the One to the World Initiative more beneficial.

According to Jungmann, more than 65 percent of the students at Monett Elementary School qualify for free and reduced meals, the federal government's definition of an economically stressed family. Around half the high school students also qualify. Many families would not be able to afford a computer without the district's initiative, Jungmann said.

Principal David Steward said getting teachers ready to use the computers effectively has resulted in months of preparation. Faculty at districts visited by Monett staff where computers have been used for years said R-1 teachers have had more preparation than they had.

The transition will begin when computers are placed in high school students' hands on Jan. 3, 2012.

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