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Ereaders and Edmodo

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Technology can help students, parents stay involved, informed

By Stephen Lega

As ebooks and ereaders continue to increase in popularity, it was inevitable that schools would make a move toward electronic textbooks.

To go along with that trend, Marion County High School students have the opportunity to purchase a Nook Tablet to use in the classroom.

"They are using them as a supplement to paper textbooks," said Kurt Mattingly, the technology integration specialist for Marion County Public Schools. "With less funding, schools are having to look for more affordable opportunities."

For the district, electronic textbooks offer an opportunity for savings, according to Marion County High School Principal Stacey Hall. He said paper textbooks cost between $120 and $150, while electronic textbooks cost $60 to $70.

Hall said he does not know if all the textbooks being used this year are available electronically, but that will be a factor in the future when the high school is deciding which textbooks to use. He does expect electronic textbooks to become more common.

Hall estimated that a dozen teachers are planning to incorporate ebooks into their classes this year. At this point, those teachers include the English department and a few science and social studies teachers. A few more teachers are looking into using ebooks as well.

Mattingly agreed that ebooks will become more widely used in the future.

"It's just way more cost efficient and it's the direction that education is headed," he said.

Hall stressed that no one is required to buy the tablets, but anyone who is interested in owning or renting a tablet can get one through the high school.

So far, Hall said the school has purchased 120 Nook Tablets. Students have already purchased 38 tablets, and a set of 30 will be available in the library for teachers who want to check them out. He said the most recent order of 40 tablets includes 26 that have already been sold or rented to students.

"We're just trying to get the technology in the hands of everybody," Hall said.

He added that the district receives an educational discount on the Nook tablets through Barnes and Noble. The first order of Nook Tablets cost $199 each, and the most recent order cost $192 each.

"The next 40 will be down even more," Hall said.

And he said that the discount is applicable district-wide, not just for the high school.

Textbook companies are slowly making the transition to digital copies of their textbooks. Many are printing hard copies and creating ebooks as well.

"We're trying to get to the point where kids won't have to carry around those hard copy books any more in their backpacks," Hall said.

The benefits of the tablets - whether it's a Nook, an iPad or a similar device - goes beyond the lighter load for students, however. Hall said numerous education apps are available to download to help students as well.

Mattingly explained that the ereaders will help teachers incorporate books into their classes as well. If a teacher wants to assign Moby Dick to her students, that teacher can contact Barnes and Noble, and the ebook could be loaded remotely onto the Nook Tablet.

"The next day, they'll be there," Mattingly said.

Students who do not have a Nook Tablet would not have to purchase one to get those books. Barnes and Noble has a Nook app that can be downloaded on other devices that will allow books to be downloaded as well.

That goes also with the "bring your own device" initiative started in Marion County schools last year. Students are allowed to bring their own Internet capable devices to school if they have parental permission.

Mattingly believes ebooks can help students stay interested in the material because of the interactivity that can be built into ebooks. A printed book presents material in words and pictures, but some electronic textbooks can also incorporate audio files and video clips along with the text.

As optimistic as Mattingly is about the benefits of ebooks, he will tracking if the ebooks have an effect on classroom performance. He will be collecting data on the students that are using ebooks this year. To compare how they perform with students who are not using ebooks.

"If it's not doing any good, then what's the point?" Mattingly said.

Tools for tracking students

Parents can utilize technology to stay up to date on their children's classwork as well. One example is Edmodo.com.

Mattingly said several teachers are incorporating Edmodo into their classrooms.

"It looks a lot like Facebook," he said.

The difference is that Edmodo is education-based, allowing teachers, students and parents to create accounts.

"Students don't have to share anything to sign up," Mattingly said. "It's absolutely made for schools."

Through Edmodo, a teacher can send messages and post assignments. The site allows the teacher to send a message to a student or vice versa, but students cannot send messages to one another unless the teacher approves those messages first.

Mattingly said parents who want to create an account should go to marion.edmodo.com and then request to join a teacher's class. This will allow the parent to see the class assignments as well.

"I've been encouraging teachers to use [Edmodo] in addition to their website," he said.

Teachers in the Marion County School District have been able to create personal websites for a few years. This can be another resource for parents who want to keep track of assignments and homework, Mattingly said.

Unfortunately, he added that the district heard complaints that many teachers did not update their websites regularly, but he thinks that will improve this year.

"The teacher websites are 1,000 times more user-friendly than they have been in the past," Mattingly said.

This does not mean every teacher will use Edmodo or have a personal website, so parents should check with teachers to find out which technologies they are using.

Last, but not least, parents can keep a closer eye on their children's grades in between report cards through technology. Marion County middle schools and the high school are using Infinite Campus to report grades, and Mattingly said parents can create an account as well.

On the Marion County Public Schools website (www.marion.k12.ky.us/) there is a link at the top of the homepage that reads "IC Parent Portal. By following the link, parents can create accounts that will give them access to attendance, grades and more.