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

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.)

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?

eSchool News Staff

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