Speak Out: Digital Learning in Fairfax County Public Schools

Parents are offering feedback as the system grapples with how to best integrate technology in the classroom.

How should digital learning move forward in 2013?
How should digital learning move forward in 2013?
Community Editor Jessie Biele reported and wrote this story. Erica Hendry contributed reporting.

Fairfax County Public Schools launched its digital learning pilot program for the 2012-13 school year, but it wasn’t smooth sailing for parents, teachers, and students.

The short-term solution was to re-negotiate contracts to get some hard copy books back in the classroom.

The long-term solution, schools officials have suggested this spring, are a better plan for keeping Fairfax up to speed with online learning trends — not only textbooks but the use of devices like iPads and laptops and access issues, too.

Read: As New School Year Apporoaches: Digital Learning Back in Focus

The school system began that process in May and June in a series of community dialogue meetings to gather suggestions about digital learning — a public outreach effort ahead of a planned work session on the issue this fall.

This week, Fairfax County Public Schools posted anonymous comments from parents and community members on its Facebook page to help draw even more feedback.

Local parents embraced the idea of digital learning, but found it hard in practice, they wrote to the system on Facebook. 

“Technology is great, however, when trying to help your child with homework and you do not have a hard-copy book to reference; it is very very frustrating,” one parent wrote. “Its hard to try to explain concepts and work math problems when you are crowded around a computer trying to read a book or posted problems. My experience this year for 5th grade math; my child's teacher would not put up the correct assignments so we could not get homework done.”

Some parents were concerned that families who cannot afford basic household needs were at a disadvantage due to not being able to participate in the digital learning program due to costs.

“Many households cannot afford food, how can they afford even a minimal cost for access. Giving kids digital e readers or computers opens them up for robbery, and parents cannot afford to replace. Many students prefer to have a reference book to flip back to examples and notes particularly in math. Some [learning-disabled] students need books to support their efforts,” another parent wrote.

Still others were concerned that digital textbooks would replace face-to-face interactions between teacher and student:

“People learn today the same way they have always learned; by being taught and by doing,” one parent wrote. “To the extent that digital tools are useful in the classroom it is to enable scheduling, resourcing and distribution of assignments/grades. Please do NOT attempt to replace genuine person-to-person learning with ‘digital learning.’ It doesn't work and the losers are the children.”

Other parents, however, think the benefits of digital learning outweigh the cons.

“I believe we should be doing more of it. Kids today are more digitally oriented than we were so picking up the how to is easy for them. I am disappointed in how much more paperwork kids today bring home than they did in my day. I really think we can help the environment and our children if we learn how to use digital devices to record and read data used in the schools. Think of textbooks like e-readers. Allow kids to record lectures or take notes with their touch devices. Allow teachers to send class notes and lectures to these devices. I think it is the way to go,” a parent wrote.

What do you think of the online learning program? How should it move forward in 2013? Share your experiences in the comments below.

MSM June 24, 2013 at 11:34 AM
I think it is interesting that FCPS decided to hold "community dialogue meetings to gather suggestions" before first holding teacher dialogue meetings. There was a survey monkey, of course; however, it was in the usual FCPS style of asking only certain questions and providing only certain answer choices. The surveys are designed to provide the results FCPS wants to hear, rather than the reality.
Paul Thomas June 25, 2013 at 09:57 AM
Full disclosure: I am a former FCPS teacher and a current curriculum developer who does lots of work with technology for education. Here are a few thoughts: 1) Just because technology is part of how students learn doesn't mean that students will lose connections with teachers or other students. When done well, the technology can help inform teachers and help their interactions with students be more productive. This requires good technology and excellent professional development for teachers, but it has the potential to help. 2) My problem with the ebooks my kids have had through FCPS is that they are terrible books. The content is poor, and the capabilities afforded by the online book is terrible. I want my kids to be able to write notes and bookmark and have easy access to reference info. The ebooks I have seen have had terrible usability and pathetic feature sets. 3) The access issues one commenter brought up are quite valid. If we rely on ebooks and other technology (such as videos that allow teachers to flip their classrooms), then how will this be provided for people without a computer or high-speed Internet access? If technology is implemented well and fairly in the schools, then it can be great. If it is not implemented well, it could have a serious detrimental effect on our kids' education.
Jim Hubbard June 25, 2013 at 10:29 AM
It can't be said often enough. The foundation for learning is skilled, experienced, well-motivated teachers. FCPS's first priority has to be assembling and maintaining the appropriate teaching staff. Appropriate technology has a role to play in learning, but we must guard against the temptation to reduce labor costs by substituting technology for teachers.


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