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Tech rollout hurting some MUSD students

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POSTED December 14, 2015 1:03 a.m.

Are problems with tablets preventing students from succeeding in the classroom?

Some Manteca Unified teachers think so. 

Last week two teachers – a kindergarten teacher and a high school math teacher – outlined the variety of ways in which adopting technology in the classroom are affecting not only the way that the teachers instruct but also how students who are affected by faulty devices are falling behind. 

According to Manteca High School math teacher Steve Grant, one of his students has been without a tablet for at least eight weeks and he hasn’t fully integrated his classroom instruction to the digital format as some of his peers have.

Grant’s concern – that not being able to perform the same tasks as other students will cause some who through no fault of their own are without the device to lose out on the opportunity for immediate success and long-term goals 

“Before we would just take a book and put it between the two of us and we’d do it that way,” Grant said. “It’s very hard to actually share a tablet and I think that it’s a problem.”

And “Blake” – the student who has been without a device since October – isn’t alone. 

Unforeseen manufacturer defects in the Panasonic tablets that have been handed out to all Manteca Unified students has caused hundreds of students to be unable to participate in group activities and instruction while solutions are being sought. 

According to Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer, those solutions are definitely being sought. 

“It’s not acceptable and I’m not going to make any excuses for it. We worked really hard to provide tools, resources and support and the tool is our biggest challenge right now,” Messer said. “We have hundreds of students without devices – maybe more than hundreds of students without devices – and we know that it puts a huge demand on our teachers to find alternative methods for doing things. 

“It’s absolutely frustrating and all I can say is that we’re dedicating significant amount of staff time to try and solve the problem every day. By the end of the year will we have computers for every student? Our goal is that we’ll have solutions for every student – quite honestly our rate of failure is lower than projected and manufacturer defect is higher than expected.”

Grant’s concerns differed from those of kindergarten teacher Andrew Anderson who recounted how after spending 20 minutes with his students in the computer lab trying to log onto programs he was only able to get two of them successfully logged in. 

Grant thanked Anderson for bringing the difficulties faced by teachers and students to the table, and appeared unmoved by Messer’s response. 

“I have a student whose GPA is going to suffer unless they work harder to get the job done and this is going to affect that student’s ability to get into the college of their choice,” Grant said. “Something needs to change.”

Messer said that although students aren’t supposed to be penalized for not having a device, they’re unable to perform at the same level as the other students in the classroom without one. 

“Staff is working very diligently on this. There are many solutions being proposed and those solutions create new issues and problems,” Messer said. “For example, we know that our largest breakage rate is at fourth grade. Yet when we went out and discussed not having fourth graders bring their devices home we got a very strong reaction about that not being the solution. 

“As we are looking at moving away from a device that has a higher-than-expected manufacturer defect, that now means ordering new devices and dealing with new manufacturers and new supply chains. Again, I’m not going to make any excuses for this. What I will say is that it’s quite easy to say ‘oh, there’s a problem’ but it has been very, very difficult to solve that problem – especially when you need to bring many, many partners to the table to get those solutions worked out no matter how much we wish to do it.”

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