E to the Power of …empowerment

The second of our four “E to the power of” statements sounds almost redundant—Empower students to use technology resources to support learning. There is one thing I know is changing and that is technology. I know I am aging far more quickly than I care to admit but I distinctly remember the old mimeograph machines and an actual hard copy set of encyclopedias. Students today are riding the swell of technological enhancements far more nimbly than many of us older adults. I can’t get used to the latest version of a web browser before it has changed. And it seems I am constantly updating the apps on my computer and phone. Students today use technology to harness the nearly infinite knowledge in the e-verse! Our schools took a bold leap just a few years ago to equip all classrooms with Smart Boards and LED panels. Unfortunately, much of the learning from these two systems was based on teacher use and student observation. We are now moving deliberately, carefully, and probably more slowly than many of our students would like into the world of 1:1 implementation. This term, 1:1, implies students are the architects behind their own learning and teachers the facilitators. Powerful e-tools such as Edmodo allow teachers to post assignments, receive and critique student work in a flipped classroom. All too often in traditional, less tech savvy classrooms students move in lockstep. Now with the power of the internet and a plethora of apps and tools, students assume a larger role in crafting assignments designed for them by the teacher. This individualized and personalized learning allows students to be taught more authentically and actively. Several classrooms at CHS have this capability and, provided laptops, they are able to work on many different assignments at their own pace and with teacher oversight from his or her own computer. There is no doubt this intentional focus on personalized and individualized learning helps students to remain engaged and attentive. Unfortunately, connectivity and broadband access are areas which we must focus more resources. Too often good resources buffer in the “spinning blue death spiral.” This is not a fault of an individual or school. It is more a systemic flaw. Technology resources are one of the governor’s major initiatives and I hope we can make major headway in equipping our schools with the needed bandwidth and connections necessary to permit the student to assume the role of primary learner. We intend to have a state audit on Feb. 15 to assess the viability of our broadband and connectivity. The governor has already made the promise additional money will continue down the pipeline to improve internet speed, to build a more robust “backbone” so certain programs, like YouTube, don’t shut the entire system down or cause it to crash. We are excited about the nearly $1 million we received in a competitive grant for personal iPads to all students in grades 7-10 and over 100 even more powerful laptops. Students are often the teacher when it comes to making sense out of the technology. However, the maturity and experience of the teacher cannot be given to the student. It has to be lived. We are at a critical nexus with empowering students and providing them with the tools to be successful. Before we can roll out our 1:1 initiative, we must have our students take a digital literacy and citizenship test to protect the school, the district, and the student, him or herself. A lot is happening with technology in L56. We constantly add machines and replace older ones…but our next big move will be when we roll out the iPads to the students. Great things are happening in District 56. I can almost guarantee in five years 1:1 initiatives will be commonplace. Students will write assignments, send them to the teacher, have the teacher read and correct them, and resend it to the students…with no actual paper changing hands. A bright and exciting new day is dawning and I am enthusiastic about the results. Although we are not where we want to be with our 1:1 rollout to students, we know the burden must be shared by the students (with appropriate training and guidelines) and teachers (with expanded professional development and app learning). We are making great first strides and are looking forward to achieving this “to the power of E:” empower students to use technology resources to support learning. (Dr. David O’Shields is the superintendent of Laurens School District 56.)

My Clinton News

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Clinton, SC 29325
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