Tablets will soon replace textbooks in some classrooms at Coginchaug High School.
On Wednesday, the Board of Education approved a relatively small-scale pilot program that will put the mobile devices in the hands of 55 students studying U.S. history this semester.
"These are the future to us but to students they're just another way to access information," principal Andre Hauser said of the technology.
At the beginning of the school year, Hauser was approached by members of the school's history department who proposed using money already allocated for new textbooks to buy new tablets.
Hauser was quickly convinced that the devices would not only provide students greater access to information, but would also prove more engaging as well.
"I have yet to talk to an administrator in a school that has gone to this approach who has said that it is not worthwhile," he told board members.
Under the proposal approved by the board, roughly $10,000 previously budgeted for the purchase of new textbooks this year will be re-allocated to pay for about 60 Google Nexus 7 tablets at a cost of $220 each (the price includes a protective cover).
Some additional funding is available through other technology savings, officials said, and will be used make up the difference.
The school replaces textbooks every five to six years at a cost of $80-$125 per textbook, some of which are outdated by the time the arrive in the classroom, Hauser said.
Tablets, on the other hand, will give teachers and students access to more comprehensive, up-to-date material, much of which is free.
"There are so many really viable, really rich, really trustworthy resources online," he said.
Board members appeared eager to support technology's role in the district's future.
"I think there's probably some far reaching implications, so that it would benefit us to do a small sample," board chairman Kerrie Flanagan said. "If we don't do it this year we're going to be doing it soon. I think it's inevitable."
"I just really feel strongly that this is the way to go," board member Nancy Boyle added.
Hauser said a single tablet device could easily support all of the textbook needs of a student, therefore establishing a long term financial incentive for the district to move away from textbooks.
"The way to go, down the road is, we're not in the business of buying tons of paper, we're in the business of buying technology to give student access to an entire world of digital information and I think the faster we can move in that direction, the more effectively we can move in that direction the better," he said.
Board members did raise concern about the availability of Wi-Fi access in homes and whether the district would be responsible for damage to the devices.
Hauser said students have already managed to find workarounds to limited internet access and told the board that students would be held responsible for the devices, which will be allowed to be taken home.
The principal said he anticipates expanding the use of tablets in English class, where for example, a softcover novel that typically costs about $6 per student would be available at no cost through websites such as Project Gutenberg, which offers over 40,000 free e-books, according to its website.
"As we move forward over the next several years, we're either going to keep buying books or we're going to keep buying whatever replaces books, so I'd like to know if this is going to work," he said.