OXFORD — A four-year program that saved SAD 17 hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid but failed to successfully incorporate technology into the classroom has been unplugged.
Last week, about 400 netbooks, which cost $352,000 in 2009, were sold to Oxford Hills School District staff, students and then to the public for $25 each, or a total of $10,000.
"It was a frustrating lesson," Mike Dunn, the district's technology director, said.
Earlier this month, Dunn asked the School Board to endorse the Maine Learning Technology Initiative's MacBook Air solution. School officials placed the order for Apple MacBook computers with the state Thursday. The computers are expected to arrive in August.
The total cost to supply middle and high school students and staff is about $327,000, Dunn told the board. That is slightly below what the district had budgeted.
The Maine Learning Technology Initiative provides subsidized laptops to middle school students across the state.
In 2009, the program was expanded, offering districts the option to buy low-cost computers for high school students. The state offers schools a new option every four years.
Four years ago, SAD 17 turned down the state's high school offering, choosing to go with 1,200 less expensive "netbooks" — small, basic laptops — for every high school student. It paid the $352,000 cost over three years.
Dunn said the problem with the netbooks began almost from the start. It became a “frustrating lesson” for everyone after the district decided to forgo a state plan that they were told at the time would have cost them $1 million in state aid in favor of launching its program.
“Over the last four years the netbooks began to be valued less by the students, and they were not valued highly from the start,” Dunn said. “They were perceived as cheap and unreliable devices. They left them in their lockers or simply refused to take on the responsibility of carrying one.”
Although the district saved some $600,000 in state aid, they lost about four years of incorporating technology into the educational process, he said.
“The process of taking advantage of technology to more effectively and efficiently engage and teach students is not one that happens inexpensively, easily, or quickly,” Dunn said.
Integrating netbooks with classroom instruction became difficult, Dunn said. Teachers found they could not rely on every student having a computer with them, so alternative plans had to be made or students would be left out of that day's curriculum.
Because teachers began to make alternative plans that didn't require computers, students became “less interested” in bringing their computers to class.
“It spiraled down to a very low functioning program,” he said.