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Why allow ed-tech access? ‘We owe it to our students’

Posted By eSchool News Staff On November 12, 2012 @ 10:48 pm In eSchool of the Month,IT Management,Mobile and Handheld Technologies,Top News | Comments Disabled

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Unfettered access to technology can be frightening, Sheninger says—but ‘find a way to make it work.’

Technology can be intimidating, and even frightening—but Eric Sheninger, principal of New Jersey’s New Milford High School (NMHS), says that educators must overcome their fear of putting technology into students’ hands.

Through efforts to create a paperless environment, a bring-your-own-device initiative, and the use of social media, NMHS teachers and administrators are integrating technology into all aspects of the school day—and these efforts are paying off. For these reasons and others, we’ve chosen NMHS as our “eSchool of the Month” for November/December.

Here, Sheninger describes the school’s ed-tech accomplishments and the keys to its success. (Editor’s note: To nominate your school or district for this award, and to read about past winners, go to http://www.eschoolnews.com/eschool-of-the-month [2].)

How does your school use technology to advance learning?

Technology has been embraced as an essential tool in enhancing the learning experience. Teachers have enjoyed the resources, flexibility, autonomy, and professional development to effectively integrate a variety of tools.

With the support of central office and the IT department, the entire district has recently adopted Google Apps to improve collaboration and communication between all stakeholder groups. In math, document cameras record the teacher solving equations. Those mini-lessons are then uploaded to YouTube or Google Sites, where students can refer to them. Students in graphic arts use iMacs and Adobe software tools to create digital magazines, newsletters, and edit photos taken during our newly formed and extremely popular Digital Photography course.

Our Holocaust/Genocide Studies students routinely Skype with Holocaust survivors from around the world and with historians in Israel. When the students participate in the 10-day European Holocaust Study Tour, they actively reflect and share their experiences through a daily blog.

Our teachers in all disciplines regularly integrate a variety of Web 2.0 tools, such as Voicethread, Glogster, Poll Everywhere, Edmodo, Wordle, and Animoto. Over the past two years, we have moved from limited access to interactive whiteboards in classrooms to 15. The latest addition is a wireless IWB solution consisting of Apple TV, an HDMI projector, and an iPad.

Have you noticed an increase in student performance and/or motivation as a result?

New Milford High has become a role model for schools across the country on how to innovate with technology. We routinely host visitors who want to learn more about our use of social media, as well as our Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative.

Since beginning to transform our school, we have experienced steady gains in standardized test scores (although they dropped a bit this year). Student motivation to learn has greatly increased, and students have referred to our BYOD initiative and our use of social media in the teaching and learning process as a privilege. Unleashing student creativity increases motivation.

NMHS students are afforded the opportunity to demonstrate conceptual understanding and apply what they have learned through the use of an array of tools. In essence, we are creating a learning culture that is more closely aligned with the 21st-century workforce than that of an industrial-aged school house. Achievement can be measured quantitatively, and we have seen gains in state and national testing results such as the SAT and AP test scores. But our commitment to improving access to technology for faculty and students also makes for a better working and learning environment. That improves climate and culture, and that improves the world.

How do you use technology to streamline school administration and aid in decision-making? What have been the results?

The administrative team uses iPads to conduct classroom walkthroughs, and data are recorded and analyzed using Teachscape Walk. The district also promotes paperless environments. We do our very best to take notes, communicate with stakeholders, and store and access files in the cloud. NMHS is in the process of becoming paperless through the targeted use of ZippSlip. Other apps used to streamline administration include Evernote, Dropbox, Classlink Launchpad, DocuSign Ink, PocketCloud, Delicious, and Diigo.

Social media also has become an indispensable administrative tool to enhance communications, improve public relations, and establish a positive brand presence. This has been accomplished through the creation and consistent use of a Twitter account (@NewMilfordHS) and Facebook page [3]. The school also has established YouTube and Flickr accounts. The use of social media has allowed us to form strategic partnerships with companies and stay abreast of the latest trends and developments in the world of educational technology. As principal, I regularly use social media to advance my knowledge through professional growth and the formation of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). I can be found on Twitter (@NMHS_Principal), Google+, LinkedIn, Blogger, Flickr, Pinterest, etc.

Through the formation of a Professional Growth Period, staff members now have the time during the day to pursue innovation and integrate technology. The result has been an increase in effective use of technology without the use of mandates or directives. Some teachers have used this time to work on the flipped approach to learning with Adobe Captivate, while others have learned how to blog—with a full rollout to all classes anticipated this year. We’ve also saved precious funds by implementing a BYOD initiative and by using Skype to hold video conferences for a fraction of the cost.

What ed-tech project are you most proud of, and why?

I am most proud of the BYOD initiative that is now in its second year. This is not only a cost-effective means to integrate technology, but also a critical factor in teaching students about digital responsibility, citizenship, and productive ways to use their devices. We have been able to overcome many of the challenges of implementing a program like this through professional development, self-directed education, partnerships, and a common vision for use.

What’s your best ed-tech advice to colleagues?

Look for solutions instead of excuses when it comes to integrating technology to transform school culture. Stop fighting the idea of putting technology in the hands of students. The hallways, classrooms, and lunchrooms should be places where students have access to learning opportunities.

Instead of keeping technology at bay, commit to finding a way to bring it safely into the harbor. Fear is very powerful and often inhibits change and innovation. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do something every day that frightens you.” Unlimited access to technology can be a frightening endeavor. Find a way to make it work. We owe it to our students to allow them to function and learn in the technology-rich world they know. We owe it to them to provide them with the opportunity to create more, research responsibly, behave ethically, think divergently, and evolve consistently. We need to learn and evolve with them.

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