Digital Readiness Project

 

Background

For my culminating project for my Values, Ethics, and Foundations in Digital Education class, I was asked to assess the digital readiness of a school district by conducting an interview and then completing a report. In considering the questions to ask to gauge the district’s digital readiness, I was not sure if I was asking the right questions or asking enough questions. The topic of digital education is a very broad one. Ultimately, I devised my questions based on the following sources: ISTE Coaching Standards, Ribble’s Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship, and the Digital Leap Success Matrix published by the Consortium for School Networking. My professor helped me to further refine and clarify my questions.

This district I analyzed serves students in a largely impoverished rural community. It is a small district comprised of three elementary schools and one junior high school. The district serves 3,530 students and employs 155 teachers Nearly half (46.5%) of students are classified as English Language Learners whose first language is Spanish. Additionally, 8.6% of students receive Special Education Services. The district has a graduation rate of 92%. 83.6% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The interview was conducted in November of 2017 via a collaborative Google Doc with the district’s technology integration coach, who wished to remain anonymous.

Philosophy

Before getting into the practical questions, I wanted to get a feel for my interviewee’s philosophy on technology in education. In my experience, a person’s individual beliefs greatly influence their attitude and actions. Individual philosophy plays a large part in successfully implementing technology in a district, from the superintendent, principals, coaches, and teachers–all must be onboard in order to truly achieve success.

My guiding questions were: What role should technology play in education? and What responsibilities do educators have in teaching students to safely use technology? My interviewee sees the role of technology as an accelerator in the classroom. The district is focused on implementing the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking) and technology offers an opportunity to redefine the skills and tasks necessary to meet that goal. He also cited a quote by Alice Keeler, an author and Twitter-guru: “Good teachers can’t be replaced by technology. What tech does is allow teachers to spend more time focusing on their learners and buildings those relationships” (2014). As far as individual teacher responsibility, it must be a priority for teachers to explicitly teach and model digital literacy and citizenship. Students need this guidance from teachers because “[w]e are ushering in a new era of digital users who need relevant and moral examples and experiences to share and shape their digital impact.” 

Successes

Community Support

A benefit of being part of a small community is that you can bring multiple stakeholders together. The district is fortunate to have the support of the local government including an educational partnership initiative with a full-time director. Through this partnership, students are served via a library/learning center within walking distance to 3 of the district’s 4 schools. Services provided at this center include a library, a computer lab, and low-cost supplemental classes for students and parents. This access is a blessing to many students in the community and helps bridge the digital divide with its free computer and internet use.

Devices & Access

In terms of access to technology on campus, the district has made great strides in a short period of time. Prior to the investment in Chromebooks, the district had little IT support and investment in technology was low. Each school site had a computer lab, some classrooms had a handful (2-4) of older PCs for student access, and each teacher had a PC. A roving class-set of 10-year-old mini-laptops was available at each site. The internet was very slow and did not allow for multiple classes to access simultaneously. In just five years, the use of technology has completely shifted. Each student K-8 has access to a Chromebook in the classroom. The internet has been updated. Additional IT support staff have been hired, including my interviewee who works full-time supporting teachers as they integrate technology into the curriculum.

One way that the district is planning for the future of technology in learning is by investing in a robust infrastructure. Funds are set aside in the district budget for longterm repairs and replacement of their chosen device, Chromebooks. In addition, for each order of Chromebooks, the district purchased an additional 25% to serve as backups in case of damage. Teachers experiencing a broken Chromebook can request a replacement.

Digital Citizenship

With the addition of Chromebooks into the classroom came the need to implement digital citizenship. In searching for an existing curriculum that met the ISTE Standards to “[m]odel and facilitate safe, healthy, legal, and ethical uses of digital information and technologies,” the district discovered the Common Sense Media framework which consists of differentiated lessons for students K-12 (ISTE Standards: Coaches, 2011). The lessons are based on the research of Dr. Howard Gardner and the Good Play Project at Harvard. The purpose of the program is to “address[] real challenges for teachers and students to help schools navigate cyberbullying, internet safety, and other digital dilemmas” (Common Sense Education, 2017). The lessons on Common Sense Media cover Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship: Etiquette, Access, Law, Communication, Literacy, Commerce, Rights and Responsibility, Safety, and Health and Welfare (2013). Elementary teachers are required to implement the program which includes a scope and sequence for each grade.

Online Safety

To further ensure the safe use of technology while at school, the district takes standard precautions. At the beginning of the school year, all students, staff, and parents are required to sign the district’s Acceptable Use Policy before being allowed to access to school technology. Many teachers also use individual Chromebook contracts that outline the rules and consequences in student-friendly language. Administrators and teachers alike are responsible for monitoring students’ use of technology. They are assisted in this task with monitoring software that records every action a student takes while using a Chromebook. Other settings within Google are employed for student safety such as moderate restrictions on YouTube, disallowing of out-of-network sharing, and disabling Gmail. Furthermore, standard web search filters are in place.

Teacher Support

The district would not have been able to make as many digital strides without the teacher support organized in large part by my interviewee. This element of support and encouragement has been fundamental in getting reluctant teachers on board with technology. My interviewee’s professional development and coaching reflects the ISTE standard 5a: “Model and promote strategies for achieving equitable access to digital tools and resources and technology-related best practices for all students and teachers” (2011). His two goals are to help give struggling teachers the basic knowledge and skills they need to access the district’s 16 current systems and adoptions as well inspire and coach 21st Century educators to become innovators.

The opportunities for support within the district are incredible. After-school workshops called “Appy Hours” are held regularly. At these workshops, teachers can be paid their hourly rate to learn a variety of applicable technology skills. Different levels are offered on numerous topics so that all teachers can benefit no matter their existing technical ability. Content of the sessions is informed by teachers themselves through a survey sent at the beginning of the school year. If teachers are interested in taking their knowledge to the next level, day-long Boot Camp sessions are offered throughout the year to prepare them for Google Certification. Perhaps most unique is the ability of teachers within the district to book the technology integration coach to come into their classroom to either teach a model lesson to the class, or to work with the teacher in developing tech lessons, troubleshooting issues related to tech integration, or any other needs as they arise. Because his time is split between three schools, each site also has at least one appointed ‘Tech Ninja’ who is a volunteer tech mentor. He/she can provide help (usually same-day) if another teacher is struggling with technology use or implementation.   

Google Apps for Education

Google Apps for Education (GAfE) has been a game-changer for many teachers and students. Unlike paperwork which can easily become lost or damaged, all work completed in the Google Suite is saved automatically to the Cloud and can be accessed from any device at any time. This ability has enabled students to complete projects across disciplines and to make better use of their time (for example, if they finish early in one class, they can complete work via Google Classroom for another teacher). Students appreciate that they can collaborate with peers and receive comments, suggestions, and revisions in real-time from their teacher. They also appreciate how easy Google Classroom makes it to view the status and grade of any assignment.

Challenges

Access at Home

The most straightforward challenge within the district’s technology implementation is the lack of access within student homes. Since the district serves students from a low socio-economic background, many students lack access to computers. Many students do have access to the internet (87% according to a 2015 survey), however, that access includes parents’ Smartphones which do not offer the same learning potential as PCs or laptops. To truly bridge the digital divide will require the effort and collaboration of the school district, parents, and the city. My interviewee has a bold vision for the future. He said, “I dream of students taking devices home, checking out wifi pucks from the school library to take home, free wifi at all local businesses, [and] the city offering a reduced rate for home internet to low income families.”

Equitable Experience Across Classrooms

Another key element in moving the district forward and ensuring that all students have a quality experience with technology in the classroom is finding ways to ensure all teachers are properly trained. The district and the technology integration coach have gone above and beyond to provide opportunities for teachers to take professional development or receive individual advice through on-site Tech Ninjas and opportunities to work individually with coaches. However, many teachers still do not take advantage of the opportunities because time after school is often spent coaching sports, tutoring, grading, and performing other such tasks. New strategies that could be explored include lunchtime mini-PD sessions, hosting PD asynchronously in Google Classroom, and using district-mandated PD time.

Reflection

I came away from the interview excited for this district and where they are headed in the future. So many of the key components of successful digital implementation are in place: access, infrastructure, funding, teacher training, community support, and a solid support system to teach students digital citizenship and literacy. While the district has not yet adopted a formal digital mission statement, their actions are in line with Ribble’s stance on technology in schools: “As technology continues to become a more integral part of students’ lives, making sure that all members within school environments are well versed in appropriate use and digital citizenship will be an imperative” (2013).

Sources

Common Sense Education. (2017). Digital Citizenship. [online] Available at: https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship [Accessed 7 Dec. 2017].

ISTE Standards: Coaches. (2011). [PDF file] International Society for Technology in Education. Available at: http://www.iste.org/docs/pdfs/20-14_ISTE_Standards-C_PDF.pdf [Accessed 6 Dec. 2017].

Keeler, A. [alicekeeler]. (2014, August 29). Good Ts can’t be replaced by tech. What tech does is allow Ts to spend more time focusing on their learners & building those relationships. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/alicekeeler/status/505547536996638720

Ribble, M. and Miller, T. (2013). Educational Leadership in an Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely, and Ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network, [online] 17(1), pp.137-45. Available at: http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1011379 [Accessed 7 Dec. 2017].

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