It's a pretty loaded question, asking state public education officials for their thoughts on increasing technology in the schools...digital, wireless advances that in some instances appear to be revolutionizing the way kids are taught and the way kids process information and, subsequently, display that they've learned a thing or two.
Although the answers can run the gamut and get quite lengthy and meandering, maybe Darin King, director of the North Dakota Educational Technology Council at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, summed up the views of many in positions similar to his when posed with the question, is all this new technology a good thing?
"Yes," he said. "It's a good thing."
In Minnesota, at the Minnesota Department of Education, increased technology in the schools is also looked upon in generally favorable fashion, with some caveats. For one, said Keith Hovis, deputy communications director at the MDE, there are still state mandated educational requirements that students must meet, no matter how instructors disseminate knowledge to them. And for another thing, he added, while some more populated areas of the state don't give Internet speed a second thought any longer because they simply assume it's always going to be super-fast at all times, some rural areas of the state still struggle with speed and bandwidth issues. "This can impact a district's ability to utilize new technologies," Hovis said. "I know this is something being looked at on a federal level, but it is a definite challenge for schools looking to incorporate new technologies."
Both King and Hovis stressed that while the state educational governing bodies they work for are very much interested in various technologies being implemented across their neighboring states, neither agency is particularly hands-on or overly involved in what are meant to be local debates and local decisions.
King, who spent 15 years as technology director in the Grand Forks, N.D. schools before taking his current job in Bismarck, said the issue countless school districts are wrestling with in this region and all over the country involves the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model versus a model that has a school district providing a wireless device, such as an iPad, for every student.
Getting a sufficient wireless network up and running is job one, he said, and countless districts have done that. But where they go from there is another matter entirely.
"There's a lot of BYOD happening all over the country, and I would say it's grown even faster over the past couple years because of the economic downturn; districts are wondering how they can ever afford to provide devices for the kids," King said. Although he doesn't relate it to the booming North Dakota economy thanks to the oil patch, King said that across North Dakota school districts are, especially in the past year or so, moving toward providing devices for their students.