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District looks to up Web access

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:58 PM

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The chalkboards and paper placed on overhead projectors that were once staples in the classroom are becoming education relics — giving way to technological advances that allow teachers and students to be wired to the Web.

Videos, graphics and images can be projected on computer and iPad screens with the click of a button while even exams are becoming more likely to be read on computer monitors than two-dimensional paper with answers shaded in using No. 2 pencils.

But technological advances come with a cost. Along with the price of purchasing the electronic equipment, school district officials are already looking at needing to increase their Internet bandwidth due to content loading at a snail's pace as more and more teachers and students log on at the same time.

Although the total cost has yet to be determined, Dr. Melissa Harts, director of technology and information services for the district, said officials are working with their Internet provider to increase bandwidth in the district, which will not only allow more students to use the Internet in the classroom, but will also create Internet hotspots at more high schools for visitors to use.

Already, Weeki Wachee High and Winding Waters K-8 schools — the two newest to be built in recent years — have Wi-Fi that allows for visitors to use the school's Internet.

However, Hart said the goal is to eventually have all high schools — possibly this year — offer Internet for visitors, which would cost the district $20,000 per school.

But with so many students and teachers using the Internet daily, it's important to make sure their learning isn't slowed by lagging load times for Web pages.

"We're already using 75 percent of our Internet capacity — which for a district our size, it's remarkable that in the span of going on two years we would be proactive enough to continue growing our technology despite our limited resources financially," Hart said. "There's more technology in the classroom than ever before. Our students today are digital natives who have grown up using technology. They're more visual and hands-on learners and we have to be more active in providing them with the tools they are familiar with."

Another issue, Hart said, is that more students are taking tests using computers rather than paper and pencil. That means there is concern that the Internet may become slow for students.

That is why for each test, she and other district employees have to do preplanning to ensure students have Internet access. That sometimes includes not allowing for the Internet to be available to other classrooms where teachers otherwise might be using it.

"It's our job to make sure students can utilize their devices and take tests without frustration," Hart said. "Sometimes it's blamed on the network being slow, but we find it can also be hardware issues as well."

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said so far the bandwidth speed hasn't resulted in any large problems with testing.

"We're also pretty fortunate that Suncoast (Schools Federal Credit Union) and the Hernando County Education Foundation have been working to provide a grant to help us expand the bandwidth," Blavatt said. "That's coming together soon and hopefully we can have something before the school board for their approval so we can avoid any bandwidth limitations in the near future." (352) 544-5271

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