Orange County students in pilot program get iPads, laptops

Devices set to replace textbooks, paper tests beginning in 2015

Local 6 News at Noon
Local 6 News at Noon

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Students at Ocoee High School are among the first to try out a new pilot program aimed at upgrading digital technology and eventually replacing textbooks and paper tests in the county.

Since school started this week all of Ocoee's more than 2,000 students received MacBook Air laptops to use during the school year.

Six other schools are taking part in the pilot, testing different devices including iPads, iPad mini's, Chromebooks and Hewlett-Packard laptops. The schools involved besides Ocoee are Millenia, Weatherbee and Pinewood elementary schools and Hunters Creek, Corner Lake and Liberty middle schools.

Orange County Schools Spokeswoman Kathy Marsh says the program is a result of a state mandate to spend half the dollars allotted for textbooks on digital curriculum. By 2015, counties will need to use that money only for E-versions of textbooks and other material.

But Marsh said just the technology and training for the one-year pilot cost $14-million, and the county won't be able to afford to expand the program past this year. She says coming up with funding to provide each county student with a device will factor highly into budget discussion before the 2015 deadline.

"It's going to be very difficult if we get to this point and then have to go backwards," said teacher Wendy Cartwright. She teaches student government management and is using the laptops in her classes to help students collaborate for event planning. Right now students are working on planning Homecoming, using Google Docs to share ideas instantly and edit their plans.

Students are already learning to use the laptops for their main proposed purpose too, as replacements to textbooks.

"I am glued to a computer a lot. You can highlight on these, you can make flashcards," said student Tori Cartwright.

The money for the pilot came out of the general operating budget, according to Marsh.