15 Sep 2014
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A Tech Plan That Goes Beyond "Boxes and Wires"

Three Year Proposal for Greenwich Schools

A Tech Plan That Goes Beyond "Boxes and Wires"

"You don't do technology for the sake of technology...our work has just begun."

Last week the held a special meeting to hear the district's proposal of the near future of technology through a 90+ page report along with a power point presentation of the 2012-15 Technology Plan for the Greenwich Public Schools.

Connecticut State Department of Education regulations mandate that districts file such a plan every 3 years and, equally as important, the plan acts as a road map for the district in its utilization of technology.

Essentially, "a plan to plan" as described by Fran Kompar, the district's coordinator of media and technology. Greeenwich submitted the plan to the State Department of Education on May 2.

The proposed plan was developed by the Greenwich Public Schools Technology Advisory Committee, comprised of administrators, principals, program coordinators, instructional coaches, teachers, media and academic specialists and parents.

One of the committee members is former PTA president and current and parent Leslie Perry who happens to be the technology integration specialist at . Perry holds a master of science in education, media, design and technology and is completing her administration and supervision certificate from Johns Hopkins University.

Perry points to Chris Lehman, the principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, who she said summed it up best—“Technology should be like oxygen—ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.”

To this end, Perry believes that "What needs to happen, eventually, is that we stop having a conversation about technology because it will be a natural part of the learning process. We’re not there yet, but I believe that the professionals I was privileged to work with on this committee have created a document that puts Greenwich on a path forward."

According to the committee's proposal the “use of technology and information is an essential literacy skill, akin to reading, writing and arithmetic” and that “true knowledge of technology must be learned through constant access and must be fully embedded in all content areas”.

Integrating Tech Into Curriculum

The plan presented was very much focused on the need to see technology as an integrated component of the overall curriculum and learning experience for students who “must not only meet the standard for excellence in education and become responsible citizens in our society with the help of technology but must be capable users of technology to succeed in our complex, global society. The use of technology is a critical 21st century skill.”

Based upon the belief that students need a more engaging and empowering learning experience, the report stressed the need for a rich curriculum which is inter-disciplinary, personalized and inquiry based. Such learning experiences could entail collaboration with others locally and globally, expansive use of digital media, and opportunities to obtain and synthesize information on a much broader basis than ever before.

At the helm of this experience is, of course, the teacher who acts as a trained facilitator and guide but this assumes that they are highly qualified in technology, understanding both devices and systems, in order to adequately prepare students.

"You will have happier customers in the buildings."

Interim Schools Superintendent Roger Lulow confirmed that the teachers and staff are "eager to have more technology," but the integration of emerging technology creates challenges that the district will need to address.

According to Lulow, some of these challenges include ensuring that schools have hardware that

  • works regularly
  • is not broken and is useable
  • can be repaired quickly when problems occur
  • is as updated as soon as possible, but not have it constantly changing

Simply put, the district users are looking for a "reliable infrastructure" that allows them to be able to log in in the morning and not have to wait to gain access.

"You can’t teach it if you don’t know it"

Other requests made by teachers were the ability to grade and utilize report cards on the computers, to use technology for timely professional development and have tech support available to them within their buildings.

Lulow wittily observed that teachers of course have a "reservoir of help that they all know about...the students in their classrooms," who seem to know much more about tech than the adults.

Perry remarked "While I hope that the technology for all students occurs faster than outlined in the plan, I think that the teachers are right to want to ensure that the plan is at a pace that allows for the integration to be successful for both teacher and student."

Goals of the Plan 

The plan laid out five sets of goals, with a focus on student learning for the next three years:

  • Engaging and Empowering Learning Experiences
  • Assessment
  • Connected Teaching and Learning
  • Productivity and Efficiency
  • Infrastructure for Teaching and Learning

In order to "engage and empower learning experiences," the use of
digital content such as eBooks and eTextbooks as well as instructional software were items in need of research. Use of technology in the classroom and of “mobile learning” as part of the delivery of curriculum were also items cited for further exploration.

Underlying all student learning goals was the issue of the “digital divide” or the negative impact on students lacking access to appropriate technology resources at home. Advisory Committee member and Central Middle School Media Specialist Jennifer Lau said that nearly 5% of secondary students do not have Internet access. Community programs such as the one sponsored by the  Greenwich Alliance for Education which provides free technology and internet access to students in need helps some but many still risk being left behind.

The area of assessment was a key focus due to the district’s transition to Common Core State Standards for its basic curriculum (CCSS) and Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) which involves a series of computer-based interim assessments and a final testing of performance tasks. SBAC will replace CMTs and CMATs, however, the tests have not been developed, creating another challenge.

Teachers must not only learn about the new assessment tools but also the underlying technology. The use of technology in data driven decision making was noted as being an area which the district is committed to but which currently also is highly reliant upon a locally developed tool, eLearning Studios, as the underlying technology.

The connected teaching and learning goal seeks to provide teachers, as individuals and as teams, with the data, content, resources, expertise and learning experiences which will enable them to more highly effective teaching. Defining core competencies, developing accountability but also providing the necessary professional education experiences will be critical to ensuring that teachers raise their skills sets appropriately.

BYOD - Bring Your Own Device

Kompar revealed through a "Comparative District Survey," that

  • 50% of neighboring districts surveyed will either begin or complete a 1:1 mobile learning plan during the course of the 2012-15 Technology Plan;
  • 71% of districts surveyed have implemented a hybrid-model for mobile learning whose recipe includes District provided plus BYOD

Here in Greenwich, our teachers revealed that

  • 25% of our teachers already allow access for students to use their personal devices;
  • 43% use mobile devices in either in planning or delivering instruction;
  • 65% are interested in pursuing BYOD. 

The next arms race?

Board member Barbara O'Neill said she supports "equal access for all students at all levels." O'Neill said she supports a BYOD policy developed and implemented as other districts have done.

Perry agrees. "The hybrid model of BYOD coupled with providing devices for students in need seems like the most prudent way to go and one that is rapidly gaining favor. I would like to believe that allowing students to bring their own computers would allow this plan to move forward quickly."

The Cost of a 21stCentury Learning Environment

The last goal, providing access to all students and educators to a comprehensive technology infrastructure will inevitably be the most controversial component of the plan. The need to provide teachers with appropriate tools such as Wi-Fi access, adequate bandwidth and the right mobile devices and laptops was a cost factor which neeeds to be addressed. All of this will require additional financial resources and staffing to support.

At the same time questions regarding the timing of purchasing, which technology to purchase and the lack of comprehensive research to support decision making makes this inherently an area of potential controversy. With technology evolving so rapidly, the ability to conduct and then publicize research before the technology itself becomes obsolete is ahard challenge to overcome.

Board member Nancy Kail is looking at the technology needs through a slightly different budgetary lens. When it comes to the inevitable question of funding, Kail asks "what is the ideal we are striving for? What do our kids need? And then what is that cost?"

The Board is expected to discuss the proposed Tech Plan at several more meetings with an anticipated vote for acceptance held in June.

The "world in our hands"

The best testimony to the need of increasing the district's bandwidth for technology comes from students.

James, a 9th grade student in Aimee Farnum's integrated science class at Greenwich High School referred to the iPads that they are piloting in the class as "the future and our future to educational learning. We no longer had to look through thick books that have limited information. We now have the world in our hands through the Internet..."

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