Web-Based Tools Strengthen Ohio District's Community Connection, Survey Capabilities

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The Berea City School District in Ohio had two primary objectives in evaluating Web-based learning and communication tools for its heavily populated and widespread school system: to better and more fully integrate technology into the classroom as a learning aid, and to meet Berea's need for a stronger school-to-home connection. Three years ago, the district began a pilot program at Berea and Midpark high schools with Web-based teaching, reporting and communication tools from Aspire Learning. Based on the positive feedback from our pilot teachers, we expanded our use of the Aspire Web tools into our two middle schools to reach all 3,500 students and 300 staff members.

From the teachers' perspective, the suite of easy-to-use Web tools fits well with our classroom program. The tools also help reduce teachers' administrative duties, allowing them to focus more on teaching and meeting students' needs. Prior to using the application, a significant portion of time was spent helping students keep track of their homework and creating makeup work packets, says Lynn Laux, a physics instructor at Midpark. "With Aspire, I can assign notes, documents, projects, homework and other student evaluations as far ahead as I like, with the students taking more responsibility for keeping track of their own work schedules," says Laux.

Aspire has provided our students a tool that gives them more ownership of their grades and work with demonstrable results. Our teachers report nearly all students have eagerly seized the opportunity to take greater accountability for their schoolwork and progress. According to Terri Martin, a Spanish teacher at Midpark High School, who ech'es the sentiments of other district teachers, this generation of kids loves and is comfortable with computers and the Internet.

Tom Andrews, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Ford Middle School, is a believer in the role that Web tools play in improving the students' ability to learn. "Just being able to see your grades on a daily basis means a lot for some students; it helps them do better," he says. "I've had students write me many times after school hours asking me questions regarding their assignments. [Aspire allows me] to be there for the students during any part of the day."

In addition, the Web tools have also been an aid to students who are less inclined to play a vocal role in class. I had one student who just wasn't a "classroom" person, says Martin. "Aspire helped me make the connection between teacher and student, so his progress in class really improved."

According to our teachers, many parents ask their children what they did in school each day. The typical teenage response is "nothing" or "I don't know." With our Web tools, parents now have 24/7 Web-based access to grades, homework assignments and completion information, teacher postings, and district announcements. This allows parents to stay current with their children's lives, as well as play an active role in encouraging their success in a way that fits with today's busy lifestyle.

On a districtwide level, the survey capabilities have enabled us to reduce paperwork and administrative expenses, while moving closer to acquiring useful student, parent and community feedback data. For instance, each year we survey students as they leave the three levels of our system to solicit input and feedback for improvements. Typically, the surveys are conducted in paper form and are extremely labor-intensive to tabulate. This year we conducted our senior survey using Aspire. Not only was student response excellent, but our IT resources weren't tied up tabulating responses the way they've been in the past.

The application has real power as a survey tool. I'm excited about expanding the use of Aspire as a tool to gather data on how our students, parents and community members feel about different aspects of the school system. In addition, Berea City Schools will continue its increased use of Aspire in both its middle and high schools in the fall of 2003.

— George Viebranz

Contact Information
Aspire Learning Corp.
(888) 335-3788
www.aspire.com

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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