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West Virginia: Integrating Technology to Improve Student Learning

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West Virginia Works to Create a Statewide Technology Infrastructure With Student Achievement as the Ultimate Focus of Leadership

Known for its rich mountain heritage, rugged individualism and coal-based economy, West Virginia is a rural and economically challenged state. But West Virginia is also widely recognized as a national leader, a state where education technology has been proven to advance student learning and increase academic achievement. How can this dichotomy be explained? How could a state with one of the lowest average incomes in the nation be transformed into the test bed for instructional technology, where documented research proves that when technology is implemented appropriately, students achieve?

The answer is clear: strong leadership at the state and district levels; in the schools; and, ultimately, in the classroom. West Virginia's leadership demonstrates that the state's geographic and demographic characteristics, typically characterized as weaknesses, form the basis for success because its small size uniquely positions it to succeed in statewide initiatives. Where resources are scarce and every penny is precious, the state will improve education by making strategic investments in education technology. West Virginia's teachers deserve opportunities to learn to integrate technology into instruction so that our children will be prepared for lifelong learning opportunities. The state's leadership says our students deserve a technology infrastructure that matches those of private industry, for as our traditional farming and mining jobs dwindle, our students must be prepared to work in an information-based society. Finally, our leadership says that in education, it d'esn't happen until it happens to a child.

Meeting State Goals

Striving to meet the needs of a changing world, West Virginia set a goal to place modern technology into every classroom, connect every school to the Internet, and use effective software and online learning resources. Another part of the state's goal was to provide staff development for administrators and teachers in order to enhance student learning and prepare students to advance beyond technological literacy. The West Virginia Board of Education; the West Virginia Department of Education's (WVDE) Office of Technology and Information Systems (OTIS); and former West Virginia Govs. Gaston Caperton and Cecil H. Underwood, as well as current Gov. Bob Wise have worked diligently to create a statewide technology infrastructure. Many stakeholders are involved in this process, including students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members.

To meet these goals, West Virginia has chosen to implement statewide educational technology programs on a "turnkey" basis to ensure that planning, hardware, software, local area networking, staff development, and maintenance provisions are in place to meet the educational, legislative and state policy stipulations. Primary benefits of this approach are equity for all recipients and the realization of economy-of-scale advantages.

The largest statewide initiative includes West Virginia's Basic Skills/Computer Education program that provides funding for a comprehensive K-6 solution to help students learn the basic skills of reading, composition and mathematics. The West Virginia SUCCESS (Student Utilization of Computers in Curriculum for the Enhancement of Scholastic Skills) initiative provides the technology tools to prepare students in grades 7-12 to succeed in college, other postsecondary education or gainful employment. The World School and Telecommunications/Technology programs have provided connections to the Internet for every school in the state via a state-subsidized electronic network that also supports the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS).

The rich technology infrastructure created by these statewide initiatives has made possible the implementation of numerous other educational technology programs. It also has allowed the state to leverage its educational technology investments with related funding from other sources. For example, when the West Virginia Legislature found that the infrastructure existed to offer high-quality education courses to students through Internet technology in 2000, it created the West Virginia Virtual School (WVVS). This allows students who would otherwise have difficulty obtaining access to appropriate courses in a classroom setting to participate in needed or desired classes, regardless of school location or size. WVVS was recently recognized on a national Virtual Town Hall Meeting, which was moderated by Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene Hickok, highlighting rural education initiatives across the country.

Grants & Programs

Recognizing the strength of West Virginia's technology infrastructure, the federal government and national corporations have awarded grants and other programs to the state. IBM awarded a Reinventing Education grant to the state in order to create a repository of Internet-based lessons aligned to West Virginia's Content Standards and Objectives, as well as to develop a model for successfully implementing these lessons in the classroom. The U.S. Department of Education awarded a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant to The EdVenture Group which, in partnership with the WVDE, has provided technology training for teachers to meet the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards now in West Virginia policy. The WVDE partnered with the MarcoPolo Education Foundation to provide professional development to teachers throughout the state regarding the use of Internet resources in the classroom. The WVDE received a $1.2 million State Challenge Grant for Leadership Development from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In partnership with EdVenture, the grant will enable the state's superintendents and school principals to become informed leaders who encourage the use of technology to transform student learning. The WVDE is a recipient of a federal "Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology" (PT3) grant. The grant partners the WVDE with local school districts, colleges and businesses to develop technology-proficient educators who are prepared to meet the needs of 21st century learners. The WVDE has helped to implement Cisco Local Academies in 34 schools and Cisco Certified Network Professional programs in eight community technical colleges. In addition, 26 schools are designated as authorized MOUS (Microsoft Office User Specialist) testing centers, and seven schools served as pilot sites for the Oracle Internet Academies.

The federal E-Rate program has provided funding to advance the connections into the classrooms as well. Realizing the intricate details of the program and acknowledging that the rural areas that most needed the program benefits would be the least likely to participate due to lack of staff and other circumstances, the WVDE's Office of Technology took responsibility for E-Rate applications and assumed the task of completing an application for every school in the state. Legislative and local appropriations for technology were used to provide the match for E-Rate requirements and allowed the state investment to be expanded to take advantage of pricing on state contracts. Every school now has a local area network (LAN) connected to the Internet via a high-speed connection, which means that 100% of West Virginia schools have access to the Internet.

Technology Infrastructure

West Virginia has recognized that optimal use of this rich technology infrastructure requires educators with strong skills in integrating technology into the classroom. To ensure quality in teaching and administration relative to technology, West Virginia has set in policy standards, based on ISTE NETS-T (National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers) and NETS-A (National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators), which focus on the skills needed by teachers and school/district administrators to effectively integrate technology into instruction.

But setting standards alone d'es not make effective technology integration happen. Professional development programs must be in place to ensure that teachers have an opportunity to learn the requisite technology skills. OTIS provides opportunities in all statewide initiatives for teachers to participate in professional development programs for exemplary technology usage. It also has developed an assessment tool that principals can use to assess teacher progress in meeting these standards.

Standards for students, based upon the ISTE NETS-S (National Educational Technology Standards for Students) model and incorporated into the West Virginia's Content Standards and Objectives, include technology objectives for each grade level and the expectation that technology will be used throughout the students' course of study in all subject areas.

The state aids districts in designing and purchasing a technology infrastructure consistent with guidelines set in state policy. The statewide programs provide an avenue for the procurement of hardware, software and other services, with discounts realized because of the purchasing power of statewide contracts. To assist districts and schools in planning for this technology, the WVDE implemented a customized, online technology planning system known as OPTimal (Online Planning - Technology Integration Measures for Achievement and Learning). To receive critical state and federal funds, West Virginia schools can now complete online technology plans in OPTimal as an integral component of the Unified School Improvement Plan.

Effective Technology Integration

Ultimately, the classroom is where it all really happens, and the WVDE has chosen to grant federal competitive EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) funds to schools so that "technology integration specialists" can provide support to classroom teachers in the effective integration of technology into the curriculum to enrich classroom instruction. The practices supported in these grants are based upon analyses from research synthesis. "The West Virginia Story: Achievement Gains from a Statewide Comprehensive Instructional Technology Program" (Mann et al. 1999) concluded that the Basic Skills/Computer Education program had a positive effect on student achievement. The U.S. Education Department has cited "The West Virginia Story" as an example of scientifically based research outlining effective strategies for integrating technology to improve student learning. Evaluated by Education Development Center's Center for Children and Technology, the Reinventing Education program has resulted in middle and high school students making substantial gains in all curriculum areas.

All of the above components must be planned, coordinated, implemented and utilized with student achievement as the ultimate focus of leadership. It also has been acknowledged that it takes an electronic village to educate our children for a global economy and lifelong learning opportunities. In the end, strong and supportive leadership at all levels is the key.

Reference

Mann, D., C. Shakeshaft, J. Becker, and R. Kottkamp. "The West Virginia Story: Achievement Gains from a Statewide Comprehensive Instructional Technology Program." 1999. Report released by West Virginia Department of Education and the Milken Exchange on Education Technology. Online: www.mff.org/publications/publications.taf?page=155.

Online Resources

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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