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Innovative ways districts are using technology

There are so many great advances happening in the edtech world, and there isn’t a district in the US that isn’t grabbing these initiatives with both hands. The world has seen WiFi-enabled busses that close the homework gap, and virtual reality headsets that allow students to go on field trips without ever leaving the classroom. One of the biggest trends in modern learning is for schools to have fleets of devices, such as the industry leader the Chromebook. These great mobile learning devices are transforming education.

But the big topic of conversation isn’t about the actual devices, it’s about how they’re being used. We’re pretty sure Elon Musk didn’t donate $423 000 to the Flint Community Schools just for the students to type up their homework on Chromebooks. You can bet he wants the schools and the students to innovate, explore and push boundaries.

So how are some school districts pushing the boundaries and using edtech in innovative ways?

Putting the teacher back into technological learning

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a middle school teacher in LA who piloted a distance learning program for her district. She was horrified by the lack of face-to-face emphasis in the edtech available, and how teachers became removed from the teaching process. The tech allowed for monitoring progress, a space for information to be posted and a way to assign homework and projects. What it didn’t allow for was proper interactions with the students to guide them through the syllabus in real time. If you wanted that functionality as a teacher, you had to pay for an additional plug-in.

This bombshell led Wolpert-Gawron to develop a program that was truly a blended learning approach. She looked for a way to ensure that students could learn effectively from anywhere – distance would no longer be an obstacle to getting real face-to-face time with their teacher. Her program and the edtech used, opens the door to a world where students can all get the same education without having to travel great distances to get it.

Another key element to Wolpert-Gawron’s program is the way it gives students a choice. They can use the solution that best fits their learning style. They can choose to be assessed in school or online. Students are also required to be available for class time during school hours. They must be able to log into the system and take part in the class program for that time period. This gives both teacher and student a platform for that critical real-time connection.

Podcasting school projects

Now, this isn’t a district-specific project. Rather, it’s a trend that is cropping up all over the US. Teachers are taking the technology available to them – smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. – and using it in a fun way to inspire students to do as well as they can with their homework and assignments.

How are they doing this? An article on Edutopia tells about how Brent Coley, a 5th grade teacher in California, gets his students to record their research as podcasts. He then posts these to a class website and saves them in iTunes. They’re called ColeyCasts. Students are now artists on the same platform as their favourite band or singer. Coley also uses the stats from his website to show his students that their work matters. People all over the country and even the world are listening to their podcasts.

Coley isn’t the only teacher doing this. There are many across the US and around the world. There are even award programs that take a look at student podcasts and honor the best ones. Talk about great motivation for students. You don’t just get a project grade, you get international recognition.

Students become the teachers in Beekmantown Central School District

When piloting their new edtech program, the district technology committee in Beekmantown Central actually turned the students into the teachers. In many cases, the students also became the on-site IT department. The committee’s aim was to get everyone on board with the new program, and to ensure that everyone – teachers and students alike – felt confident that they could use the edtech effectively.

But how exactly did the students become the teachers? It’s simple really. Generation Z knows technology – they were practically born with it in their hands. So who better to teach the older generations what the newest tech can really do? They were also a great source for on-site IT help. Teachers could call the designated students in for troubleshooting and advice.

By involving the students to such a degree, the district was able to make them feel like they were part of the new movement in their schools. It generated excitement in the students and made them want to interact with their education. The records also show that attendance rates increased once the program deployed, as did student achievements.

Software-Defined Networking in the Carmel School System

Now this innovation may not be as sexy as some edtech and its uses, but the IT manager for Carmel School System was able to revolutionize the way his department spends its time. The district opted for a physical management console that monitors the entire network. It also pops out notifications whenever something changes.

This tech saves masses of time, as the IT team doesn’t have to physically go through the network and the servers after something goes wrong – a process that can often take days of monitoring and testing by technicians. Instead, they are notified of changes within the system, sometimes before they turn into a fault. A technician can then correct things before students and teachers are even aware of anything.

The second part of the system is user-related. It can identify students’ devices and where they are, and actually remotely change settings on their devices based on this information. For example, your eSafety policy may not allow the use of social media on school grounds, but it does allow students to use devices off campus too. The system can recognize that a student is now done with school for the day, and change the settings on the device to allow them access to social media. It will then change back the moment school starts again in the morning.

 It’s all about how you use the edtech

It is clear to see that just having the edtech in your district classrooms isn’t the be all and end all. It’s a combination of figuring out what you want to do and then seeing what technology is available. Just take a look at the Mobile Guardian classroom management tool for Chromebooks. You can see it as a way to just monitor and track your device fleet, which is very useful. Or, you can see it as a way to learn about your students and their study habits – another useful piece of information but this time for improving teaching methods. One tool allows you to keep an eye on your actual devices and ensure that you can give your students the personalized treatment they need to excel.

By looking at the question from both sides, you’ll find surprising ways to innovate and to give your teachers and students what they really need.

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