MINIDOKA COUNTY, Idaho — As Idaho schools continue their transition to online learning, there have been a few growing pains, but one Idaho school district says its decision to focus on incorporating technology into the classroom nearly half a decade ago has made the transition a little smoother.
Four years ago, the Minidoka County School District began providing brand new laptops for freshmen--a step officials say allowed them to be ahead of the curve when it came time to transition to online learning because of COVID-19.
"That has given us a foothold with students and teachers learning how to utilize technology and to teach with technology," said Dr. Kenneth Cox, Minidoka County School District's superintendent. "We were already partway there."
The district has plenty of technology to go around. Between those laptops and classroom sets, the district has more then 5,000 devices--more than enough for their 4,200 students.
"We're beyond one-to-one from the perspective of number of devices," Dr. Cox said.
Dr. Cox says the district's focus on incorporating technology into the classroom isn't new. It's been a huge part of his work since he started six years ago, but it's not just about providing the technology, it's about making sure the teachers have the right tools to utilize it.
"It's been a long-range plan of improving technology, and then providing that technology," Dr. Cox said. "Teaching with technology is different, or rather should be different, than teaching without it."
Central to those efforts is Ashley Johnson. The former fifth grade teacher, now Elementary Director of Student Achievement, says she's seen the benefits of technology in the classroom first-hand.
"The kids that are seniors this year are the kids that I had in fifth grade that year when our school was able to go completely one-to-one with devices," Johnson said. "I think that was a turning point for our district, that it was a priority, that technology was something we were going to look at and learn how to enhance education."
The district offers technology professional development courses for teachers, something Johnson says is essential to making sure the technology is used effectively in the classroom.
"It (technology) will never ever replace the teacher. It's not making it easier for teachers to teach, they have to think differently," Johnson said. "We have to adapt and change how we teach them. Technology is part of their lives, so figuring out how to leverage that to make the learning experiences greater."
The district says they're still creating printed packets of materials for students without access to the internet, but the district says less than 100 of their 4,200 students are using them.