EducationWorld is pleased to present this interview by Maggie Summers. She writes about educational technology for Anthro Corporation, a company that designs and manufactures furniture for technology in Portland, OR. The interview features Susan James, IT Director at Tigard-Tualatin School District in Oregon. The public school district, comprised of 17 schools, serves over 12,500 students.
Could you give me an overall picture of what devices your district has out there?
We are 85-90% Mac as far as our platform. We have 12,500 students, and about 8,000 devices total. I’d say as many as 1,000 of those are for staff and around 7,000 for students. So in theory, we should have about a 2:1.
Three or four years ago, we switched to laptops, and we didn’t allow anyone to get desktops. Prior to that, we had a mix of desktops and laptops, but that’s really hard because kids can’t pack around a desktop with them. So, we’re still in this flux mode of some stationary desktop labs, but we’re making a transition to 100% mobile carts, and eventually a 1:1, where we actually issue a device to a student.
That’s the space we’re in right now. Do we keep feeding those that are hungry and want a cart in the classroom and are ready for it, or do we do something a little bigger and more strategic, and say, “Okay, this school’s going 1:1.”
We’re at this tipping point. We have so much equipment, but I’m not 100% sure that we’re using it in a strategic way. Everybody kind of has the same goal, but it hasn’t been articulated very well, so I’m not sure where we’ll get to if we keep feeding those who are hungry.
So when you talk about the mobile carts, what exactly do you mean by that?
We’ve got stationary access points in our schools (pulls out a map of a school’s floor plan). So at that particular school, the green dots are where the access points are. The idea was that the cart would travel around and wherever it landed, it would have access for a whole class. With all the grants that have come in, we’ve tried to put an access point in the room where the teacher received the 1:1 because all the grants are 1:1.
That’s worked really well, but then teachers move classrooms, so in the summertime, I might have this classroom this year, and here’s my access point if I have a 1:1 classroom, but now I’m down the hall. With all that shuffling, there was never enough time to document all of it and adjust, and we don’t have a setup yet where we can put 35 devices in every classroom back to back. We’re slowly rolling that out. It’s probably about one access point for every 2 or 3 classrooms. But if there are three classrooms clustered around just one access point, we have trouble.
What are the students using the devices for? Does each teacher decide how to use them, or do you guide them? How does it work with the curriculum?
The lion’s share of what people are doing is getting access to resources online and then using Google Apps. Some of our curriculum has some online components, but it’s hit or miss whether people are really using them very much. We have some online services, like GradPoint and Read180, some other curriculum that’s actually electronic, and many of those are intervention or credit recovery-type classes, not in replacement of an entire course.
We have some people using Khan Academy, and a lot of people using iPads, so many are using apps in whatever way that meets their social studies or math curriculum. So it’s sort of up to them, which is why we’re trying to get a little more strategic!
Right, so is that what you’re struggling with right now? Trying to corral everyone together instead of having a lot of independent projects?
Yes. At some point we need to come together as a district, and create a vision of where we want to be. That’s the conversation we’re having… even just this month… trying to come up with a plan, so that we can hang our hat on it, and build it out for the next three years.
There are so many different initiatives. Our principals, our teachers, our administrators are all in very different places, but still very supportive. So we’re trying to grow the capacity in a way that’s meaningful versus just throwing a PowerPoint together and showing it that way.
So instead of just changing the medium, you’re trying to apply it a different kind of way.
Exactly. There’s a SAMR model that we’ve been using as a guide. The first level is Substitution, so it’s a way for people to just feel comfortable. “We’re writing an essay… Well, let’s do it electronically.” And then with Augmentation, you’re doing something a little bit different. You’re doing something you couldn’t have done without the technology. So, maybe you’re doing some collaboration… I’m editing your paper; you’re editing mine, for example.
And it just keeps upping the ante until you get to the point above that line (points to the last two stages: Modification and Redefinition) where you’re really just changing how you’re teaching. It’s more personalized for students, instead of the teacher at the front, everybody kind of getting it and regurgitating it back on a test. It’s a shift in philosophy.
It sounds like a challenge…
Teachers and their classrooms, their curriculum and how they deliver it is a very personal thing, so putting any kind of restrictions or constraints around a tool that you give them is a really tricky balance. You don’t want to have them work with one hand tied behind their back, but on the other hand, you need some consistency on what the students are getting as they go through.
It’s a good problem to have because it’s not an issue about not having access. It’s just being really good about what we’re going to do with [the technology]. It should be a help, it should make us more efficient, and it should allow the kids access to information and challenge them more, or reiterate things they need to hear again. Nobody’s quite figured that out yet.
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