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Technology (Enhancing + Engaging + Connecting)

The Wired Classroom

The Wired Classroom 

PHOTO © SYDA PRODUCTIONS/SHUTTERSTOCK

Increasingly, school district administrators are finding new, exciting ways to incorporate technology in the classroom. Unfortunately, there are still roadblocks to implementing that technology. Be it teachers who think that including technology simply means occasionally using computers in class or an older building that makes bringing new technology into the classroom a challenge, there are always ways around those difficulties. In this article, SP&M looks at ways to embrace all forms of technology in the classroom and use them to the advantage of the students and teachers.

Current technology trends

There are many different ways to spend your district’s technology budget. So what are the industry leaders seeing most these days? “Overall, the biggest trend that we have been seeing is creating more access for students and educators,” says Sam Morris, Worldwide Education Segment executive for Morrisville, N.C.-based Lenovo. “Up until recently, most technology has been stationary or in a fixed location within the school, which brings challenges to get access to and leverage the technology. For instance, we saw a lot of pull-out technology, where the chosen technology was used for a scheduled or specific learning opportunity. Now, with one-to-one programs and a higher density of student devices in the classroom, the added proximity and availability of devices are allowing technology to be used more in the classroom by educators.”

“I think one of the biggest trends we are seeing now,” says Tom Dobson, senior vice president for Bluffdale, Utah-based Audio Enhancement, is using or increasing the number of teacher observation or coaching sessions with technological solutions. For instance, districts are using video in the classroom setting as a coaching tool to help educators improve or to train the next generation of teachers. In the past, we may have used a flip camera to achieve this, which has a lot of steps for the teacher: set the camera up, record the session, download the file, upload the file to a server for sharing, etc. Now, it is possible to take that process and integrate it into the classroom setting. So all a teacher has to do is go online and schedule a recording. The system does the rest: starts and stops recording per the schedule and supplies the videos in different formats for access by viewers.”

No new technology program is instituted seamlessly. So what are some of the major pitfalls and how can district administrators avoid them?

Have a plan

“Administrators need to have a conversation with manufacturers about what their five-year plan is,” says Anthony Cortes, director of Sales and Marketing, K12 Classroom Systems for Anaheim, Calif.-based Extron. “Often, administrators may make a decision on what technology to purchase today, but that solution isn’t actually deployed for three or more years, depending on building schedules, budgets or other reasons. In three years, that original plan may be obsolete, and they often don’t update it.

Most manufacturers won’t have a problem being candid and planning for a three- or four-year deployment down the road.” Morris agrees that a plan is absolutely necessary. “Make sure your district has a dynamic vision that will change with time to serve as a rubric for what you’re investigating. Having no vision or way to assess a particular component can get a district in trouble. Administrators should engage their colleagues from around the country in a dialogue. Of course, not one vision will serve all districts, but the knowledge from all will be bigger than the individual pieces.”

Professional development

Cortes says, “Professional development is a key element. Oftentimes, administrators get excited about installing new technology in the classroom, but they don’t think about how to use it effectively. The students aren’t the problem – they are brought up with technology and figure out new technology very quickly. You need to have some plan to train the educators and make them comfortable.”

“You absolutely need to invest in infrastructure for your staff,” says Morris. “A lot of district IT departments can manage their current technology because the machines don’t move. But now, schools need to make an investment in their IT staff to handle new, mobile technology. Then, there are the educators — technology is creating new opportunities for teachers, but they need training to take advantage of them. Most teachers had an experience in receiving their own education that they are now replicating in their classrooms: one teacher standing in front of 30 students in a classroom. It is no longer necessary for the teacher to be the center oracle for information to the students. Implementing different teacher practices will lead to a more organic classroom. This can be daunting for many professional teachers as they have to give up some control. As we look to developing technologies, we definitely have to provide much better professional development; too often district administrators race ahead with technology upgrades without investing in their staffs.”

Dobson agrees, “Empowering your teachers pays off huge dividends. When you create the ability for teachers to self-evaluate and an environment where they can accept constructive criticism, you can create sustained change because you can create lasting change. There is a real focus right now on improving teachers instead of just focusing on new hardware or software. That is a real shift in thinking and is providing a better education for thousands of students.”

Budget

“Money is always an issue,” says Cortes. “One easy way to keep an eye on your bottom line is to implement solutions that don’t require new products or infrastructure. Often, district administrators purchase a product and they later realize they need all new products or additional infrastructure, which is a big, unforeseen cost.”

Morris points out another area to be aware of, “What is the sustainability of the cost model? There might be an influx of money right now, especially with the online assessment requirement coming from the federal government, but this isn’t a funding mechanism that has a refresh cycle. There won’t be another mandate, so how are these models sustainable? One factor is lifecycle. A desktop computer lasts an average of four to six years. The tablets that many schools are investing in now don’t have a lifecycle near that long, so plans need to be made for replacing them in one to three years instead.”

“Dollars are tight,” says Dobson. “So districts need to look for ways where they can get more bang for their buck. For instance, can safety and security be leveraged into the investment to make it more cost effective? You can easily combine two concepts with a camera classroom – the camera is available to educators to use for educational purposes, and when there is a security incident, you can use that same camera and microphone system to alert people instantly. Video and audio feeds from the classroom can be used to prepare the correct response. There is also a behavioral aspect. In Newton County, Ga., a district saw a 58-percent reduction in discipline referrals from classes with cameras. The students know the cameras are there and also know they will be caught and punished if they act out, so they curbed their behavior. This frees the teacher up to spend more time teaching and less time on discipline.”

Looking down the road

We have looked at what is happening in today’s classroom, but what is coming in the decade?

Morris says, “I think in the future we will see more digital content from a curriculum perspective. We have seen a shift in hardware from wired to mobile devices, and now the burden is on how to get content to those devices. There is a lot of buzz around ebooks (digital books that mimic the look of paper books), but I think that is a dead proposition. I think education will become more of an app-like experience. The world of data will continue to grow, providing better assessment tools as well. Imagine a teacher who assigns a reading assignment and can pull up a report of not only who read it, but how long each student spent reading it, what internal links they clicked, what words they looked up definitions for, etc.”

Dobson agrees, “We have been talking about paperless and digital curriculum for a while, but in the next 10 years, that will absolutely happen. The days of homework — book and paper coming home to be completed — will disappear. All of these assignments will be completed and submitted online. Things change and yet stay the same in regards to the politics. When changing from chalkboards to white boards, we had to convince people it was worth the cost. Now, you wouldn’t even consider putting a chalk board into a school. Over time, district administrators will need experiment and see what makes a real difference in the classroom and is not just empty promises.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

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