educationtechnologyinsights

"How did you use your computer in school today?"

By Doug Johnson, Director of Technology, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools

Doug Johnson, Director of Technology, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools

This simple question is one that that many parents in our school district will be asking their children after the 2016 fall roll-out of our 9-12 Chromebook 1:1 initiative. And the question has driven our thinking and planning efforts. While nationally, about 55 percent of schools have given each student in at least some grade level a computing device, there is no “model” plan for implementation - and too many districts focus planning on the device and infrastructure rather than on teaching and learning goals.

"Having a defined pathway and examples of increasingly sophisticated uses of technology in the classroom allows us to articulate the “look-fors” when doing classroom observations"

The citizens of the Burnsville-Eagan- Savage 9300 student school district voted overwhelmingly in favor of a $2,500,000 per year, 10-year technology referendum in February of 2015. We want to honor the faith that our taxpayers have placed in us to make sure the money is spent on improving educational opportunities for all students in the district. While the referendum will fund a variety of projects at all grade levels in the coming years, the first and most visible expenditure will be providing all 2850 of our 9-12 students a personal Chromebook for use both at school and at home.

In presenting information about this initiative to our staff, parents, and the public, we have intentionally avoided using the term 1:1 program, instead calling it an “equitable access to digital resources” program. Our district, like most, serves a broad range of socio-economic levels (56 percent of our families qualify for Free or Reduced Price Lunches) and students from families who cannot afford to provide a computing device for their children are already at a disadvantage. Our district already provides many “digital resources” to students including:

• A portal to the student information system (StudentVue in Synergy) for access to grades, schedules, attendance
• A career planning tool (Naviance) to identify courses completed and needed
• Digital study organizers to support the AVID program
• Online productivity and communication tools (GoogleApps for Education) for email, writing, spreadsheet, and presentation design
• E-books, e-textbooks, full-text databases, digital curricula for research and reading
• Adaptive reading and math programs (System44, Read180, MyOn Reader) for students identified needing interventions in basic reading and math skills

Our “equitable access” plan will help assure that all students can use these current resources both in and out of school.

In addition to these legacy systems, our district this year launched a new learning management system (Schoology). Piloted by our 7-12 social studies teachers, it is being used, along with classroom carts of Chromebooks, to supplant the traditional textbook for organizing the curriculum and supplying resources for each course. The learning management system provides a syllabus, links to digital readings and multimedia content, assessments, online internal discussion forums, and teacher-to-student/student-to-student messaging.

Yet the district realizes that we want the learning management system to do more than simply be a digital version of standard resources and practices. Using the SAMR model developed by Ruben Puentedura (Puentedura 2015), we have identified three primary areas in which student access to the digital resources provided by the Chromebooks will expand teaching and learning opportunities.

1. Access to resources via the Learning Management System.

At the Substitution level, the LMS will begin to replace of textbooks and paper copies of common teaching materials and handouts like objectives, syllabi, worksheets, communications, activities, and tests. Linking to multimedia materials and using online assessments begins to take the use of the LMS to the Augmentation level. Modification is achieved by providing differentiation by linking to reading materials at a variety of difficulties and providing culturally relevant materials and activities. Finally, using the LMS to enable self-paced instruction guided by formative assessment and to “flip the classroom” by asking students to view video lessons outside of class then do homework in the class with teacher assistance will lead to Redefinition of the instructional process.

2. Student Productivity

Teachers who only ask students to use their devices to word process and create text-only slide shows operate at the Substitution level when in the student productivity category. Having students first use non-original graphics and sounds that support their communication efforts, then ask for the creation and use of original graphics and audio that are critical components to the message move technology use into the Augmentation and Modification levels. Using combinations of images, sound, and movement that convey the primary message and the creation of original video productions we consider Redefinition-type activities in the student productivity category.

3. Student Collaboration

When student work is distributed, collected and returned electronically via a dropbox, the digital workflow is simply a Substitute for analog activity. Collaboration is Augmented when students do peer editing and review using shared document in a program like GoogleDocs. But when students form virtual study groups using social networking tools (Modification) and when students participate in work groups from classes in other schools, including those from other cultures (Redefinition), classrooms begin to utilize the full power of students having personal technologies.

Frameworks like SAMR are useful for examining technology use. But we need to remember that different levels of technology use may be appropriate for different learning goals and technology use that just enhances current practices may sometimes be more appropriate and effective.Nor is categorizing technology use clear-cut. If a teacher, for example, asks students to comment on one another's essay using a commenting tool within a word processing program, does it matter whether we label this use as "augmentation" or "modification?"

Yet having a defined pathway and examples of increasingly sophisticated uses of technology in the classroom allows us to plan the necessary PD and articulate the “look-fors” when doing classroom observations.

We believe that focusing on teaching and learning objectives rather than on the physical technologies themselves will result in some great answers when parents ask “How did you use your computer in school today?” Our goal is that students will be saying:

• I edited a video explaining a science concept.
• I took a quiz that showed I could advance to the next unit.
• I collaborated with a student in Spain on a project.
• I read an article that was written at my ability level.

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