Dubuque School District reflects on high school students' screen access with 1:1 laptop program

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) -- The Dubuque School District is on its way to providing a laptop to each of its high school students, while also trying to ensure students are using those screens in a productive way.

Kendrick Watkins-Hogie works on his district-issued laptop on Wednesday, May 22 at Dubuque Senior High School. (Allison Wong, KCRG)

In 2017, the district began its Anytime, Anywhere Learning Initiative. For $1.55 million, the district purchased laptops for every one of its high school students.

That year, ninth grade students received laptops. In the 2018-2019 school year, sophomores and freshmen received laptops. Next year, all high school students will get a laptop.

On a Wednesday in a Dubuque Senior High School biology class, sophomore students were working in small groups or pairs, using laptops.

Kendrick Watkins-Hogue worked with another student. "We're looking at deforestation in Brazil," he explained.

The two used their laptops to conduct research. Watkins-Hogue said he uses the device every day.

"A lot of the work is on Canvas so we go there," he said. Canvas is an online, course-building platform. "Tests, quizzes, everything. So we use it a lot."

His teacher, Stephanie Monahan, likes her students having laptops. She said it makes planning her lessons easy. And despite what you might expect, Monahan said it actually helps to keep her students on task.

An app allows her to see what each student is doing on his or her laptop. She can intervene if it's not related to school work.

She explained, "You can send them messages and just watch what they're doing and freeze their screen or change their screen."

A number of websites are also blocked on the school laptops, no matter where the students use them.

Despite the checks, the laptops give students access to yet another screen in and out of the classroom. District Secondary Education Director Mark Burns said laptop use varies by classroom. At home, it's up to the parents to set the rules.

"We would ask parents to make sure that they monitor their students use of the computers," Burns said. "Set good times for them to be doing their work."

He stresses this isn't the only tool students have in their learning.

"It's not the be-all, end-all," he said. "Computers can help us a great deal, but we still need to teach our students how to collaborate, talk to one another."

Watkins-Hogue admits the laptop adds to the time in a day he's looking at a screen. However, he says, "you're still working on school and you're getting that grade that you need."

He thinks it's just what he needs to finish off the school year strong.