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OPINION - High-tech schooling

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) A new school year is about to begin, and this may be the first year that computers and electronic devices are fully integrated into the classroom experience. The Wausau School District is expanding its technology program. It will be impossible to get through high school without a computer. This district is encouraging students to buy their own Google chromebooks and to bring them to school every day, every class. If you can’t afford the $200 or so, you can lease one from the school for $20 (but you’ll be responsible if you break it).

At my daughter’s freshman open house at Wausau West, there were boxes and boxes of chromebooks… it looked like someone robbed a Best Buy.

My daughter has her own – a gift from her grandmother.

The school district’s technology / internet policy is bulky and poorly written – but that is to be expected because tech is expanding and the rules can’t keep up. Leeway should be given.

One policy that’s unsettling: the school reserves the right to seize and search electronic devices at any time. (And students are required to sign it, or they can’t use electronics at school.) This may make sense if a student is renting a school owned computer. That is school district property. But what if you own your own laptop or tablet and take it to school? Does the school get to snoop at everything you have on it, even things from outside school hours and grounds. The policy says ‘yes’. The reality is most students will set up two profiles on their computer: you-at-school and you-at-everywhere-else. A smart student will use only their school profile while in class, and will password-protect their personal profile. We’ll see what happened when some overly zealous administrator asks for personal passwords.

When it comes to computers, I’m the last of a generation. I graduated from college in 1991, and my class was the last that get though college with no computer power. I went to school with a typewriter. Word processing involved leaving my dorm room and going to a computer lab… and sometimes waiting on line towards the end of a semester when term papers were due. When my younger sister went to school -- four years behind me -- everyone had email and almost all students had their own bulky desktop computers.

There’s no going back, nor should we. Having a computer is the modern equivalent of showing up at school with a pencil and a three-ring binder. How far have we come. Item number one in the student handbook says “students are expected to have their electronics fully-charged for the start of the school day.”

Chris Conley
8/30/13