Massachusetts district’s advice: Focus on learning, not technology

As a rural school district, technology and the internet have opened access to the world! Teachers are using Skype to connect with published authors, scientists, and other classrooms around the globe in real time. Technology has also given students an authentic audience for demonstrating what they have learned, because they can publish to DVDs and the internet. We have seen that once the students stop producing outputs of knowledge for only the teacher, their level of engagement and commitment to excellence increase dramatically. We have seen student reword, redo, and labor over video projects because their families and peers will be the final audience of their work. Furthermore, once their work is electronically published, they tend to watch it over and over again. The repetition of revisiting content long after the unit is complete is a new phenomenon made possible by the technology.

How do you use technology to streamline school administration and aid in decision-making? How have you benefited as a result?

We have several district-wide administrative applications to support school business functions. We have a web-based budget and procurement application (BudgetSense) that both teachers and administrators use to streamline our purchase order process; a web-based student information system, PowerSchool, to schedule classes, store grades, and offer a parent portal so parents can see their child’s attendance and grades; a transportation system to schedule and manage bus routes; and an online library catalog (Alexandria) that is accessible from anywhere. All of these systems have, at one point, replaced less efficient ways of doing things and aided in decision-making processes.

Our district was awarded a highly competitive grant from the Massachusetts Governor’s Office this past year in recognition of the initiatives we wanted to put in place to promote cost-saving efficiencies. Specifically, we are in the infancy stages of building a rationalized technology services model with all of our schools. The core technology components of the grant include: (1) implementing a SIF-enabled solution so we can eliminate the duplication of data entry between systems (PowerSchool, VersaTrans, Alexandria, etc.); (2) data analysis of busing information to create more efficient, and less costly, bus routes; (3) migration from a fee-based eMail provider to Google’s free Google Apps for Education; and (4) implementation of an integrated, district-wide web content and classroom management system to increase home, community, and school communication.

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

We have done many great things, all focused on improving educational opportunities that are centered on students. It’s hard to pick one, so I need to list two:

(1) Our laptop lease-to-own program has been very successful and has put technology into many students’ hands. It also changed the culture of our middle/high school. Prior to students using laptops throughout the day for research, note taking, and projects, those activities were confined to the bell schedule. However, today those activities can be done throughout the school day, as well as at home with a mobile laptop. Learning can take place 24-7.

(2) The aforementioned state grant. In the end, our students will benefit from these cost-saving efforts, as well as gain exposure to Web 2.0 tools (via the integrated classroom management system) they will encounter in college.

What have been your biggest ed-tech challenges and why? How have you overcome these?

eSchool News Staff

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