Personalized Learning is the key to Bridge Learning Gap

Lisa Watkins, Technology Director, Gwinnett County Public Schools

Lisa Watkins, Technology Director, Gwinnett County Public Schools

As the Technology Director in Gwinnett County Public Schools, Lisa Watkins is in-charge of technology selection, implementation, and evaluation for the capital projects in the district. This includes any technology-related additions, renovations, or retrofits in the schools. She also brings in new technologies to support teaching and learning, ensuring that students, faculty, and staff have the ability to access the resources required to learn or do their jobs.

Following is the conversation that Education Technology Insights Magazine had with Lisa.

What are the major challenges that school districts face currently?

The pandemic has highlighted the issues with digital equity existing in school districts. For example, the reliance on technology, where students were learning from home, showcased the digital inequity throughout the district. With around 141 schools and over 180,000 students in the district, ensuring that students have the necessary resources to access learning from anywhere was challenging during the pandemic.  However, we partnered with local schools to ensure that each and every student who needed a device or hotspot to complete their work had one to check out.

Although we had online resources and lesson plans with an established learning management system, we struggled to ensure accessibility to internet devices. We did not have a one-to-one deployment at that time.  

Could you tell us about the latest developments that have happened in the past few years or any new trends that have emerged with respect to school district space?

Technology, along with strong instruction, is acting as an accelerator for student learning while bridging the digital equity gap. With the one-to-one deployment of devices, we are ensuring students are able to access the necessary learning material whenever and wherever they need it. 

Teachers are trying to fill the learning gap—that was created during the pandemic—with small group instruction and intervention. To enable teachers to easily meet students’ needs, we are creating small group learning spaces with a tabletop monitor where they conduct intervention sessions. This will help facilitate personalized learning by providing students with the relevant instruction specific to their needs.

“We have to work collaboratively and build strong relationships in order to fulfill the end goal of supporting teaching and learning”

The one-to-one deployment will also eliminate the need for general, productivity technology labs as every student will have a device. This will enable schools to convert these labs into project-based learning spaces, where students can collaborate to work on projects.

Please tell us about any latest project initiative that you’ve been working on, leveraging the trends you mentioned.

The one-to-one deployment initiative ensures every student in the district has a learning device that is automatically transforming the learning space. Also, we are opening a new high school this year as a part of our AI cluster, where we focus on coding and other high-end learning. It’s a pathway that students can take in a regular school.

We are utilizing design thinking to develop a curriculum for the school. In addition to the AI cluster, we are leveraging the latest technology to retrofit schools, redesign labs and classrooms, and create collaboration stations for students to ensure all of our schools are future-ready. 

Another big initiative in our district is to ensure teachers are untethered in classrooms. By providing teachers with a device that can act not only as a laptop but also as a tablet, we can allow teachers to move freely across the classroom and check how students are performing. We’ve already completed this initiative for elementary school teachers and look forward to finishing it for high school and middle school teachers by October. 

What does the future look like for this space with all these potential disruptions and transformations that are happening?

We are in a dynamic environment, where trends keep on changing. The pandemic has forced us to shift our focus to creating digital equity across the district and addressing students’ personalized needs.

However, providing students with what they need when they need it is going to be a constant challenge as it doesn’t end at the hardware required to access the resources but expands to ensure the right learning materials and digital resources and instruction to close the learning gap.

It is highly crucial to leverage the right technology for this mission in a secure environment, creating and establishing security protocols not only within the building but also when students take devices home and learn from anywhere.

What would be a piece of advice that you would like to give to your fellow colleagues or the upcoming professionals in this field?

We have to keep the end goal in mind, which is teaching and learning. If we work in a school system, we need to work in collaboration with all the school divisions while choosing resources and implementing technologies. 

That’s the biggest lesson I have learned over the years.

We have to work collaboratively and build strong relationships in order to fulfill the end goal of supporting teaching and learning.

Weekly Brief

Read Also

Delivering Social and Emotional Learning

Delivering Social and Emotional Learning

Kevin Kerr, Director of Social Emotional Learning
Bobcat Digital Signs achieve safety service and synergy

Bobcat Digital Signs achieve safety service and synergy

Kimberly A. Conner, IT Communications Specialist, Office of Ken Pierce, Vice President for Information Technology, Texas State University
Committing To Better Diversity Equality And Inclusion In The IT Industry

Committing To Better Diversity Equality And Inclusion In The IT Industry

Alvin Bridges, III, Manager of Computer Operations and College Technology Services, Mesa Community College
Shapes of the New Generation

Shapes of the New Generation

Jairo E Tzunun, Senior Director Information Technology, LAUSD
Social and Emotional Competencies in Digital Spaces

Social and Emotional Competencies in Digital Spaces

Nick Yoder, PhD, Sr. Director, Whole Child & Adult Center at Harmony SEL at National University.
Pushing through technological limitations to transform higher education and increase student success

Pushing through technological limitations to transform higher education and increase student success

Marcio A. Oliveira, Assistant Vice President, Academic Technology & Innovation, University of Maryland, College Park, MD