The Power of Digital Integration

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The Power of Digital Integration
A small-town district prepares its high school students for the future by implementing a 1-to-1 laptop program with digital communications tools.

IN JUNE 2004, Brenda Winkler, the tech-savvy superintendent of the Kutztown Area School District (PA), had a plan. She wanted to institute a 1-to-1 laptop initiative with Apple Computer (http://www.apple.com) to put laptops in the hands of every high school student and teacher in the small university town located in rural Berks County, one hour northwest of Philadelphia. So, Winkler took to rallying support from parents and the community, and by the fall of 2004, the teachers and 630 students at the district’s lone high school were sporting Apple iBook computers equipped with a wide range of multimedia and productivity software to enhance teachingand learning.

It’s now one school year later, and the initiative has taken off. Students are now deciding precisely how they want to complete reports and projects. They open up their iBook laptops and choose to write a traditional paper or create a multimedia report—an iMovie, a Flash movie, a PowerPoint presentation, or a Web page designed with Macromedia (http://www.macromedia.com) Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks. They browse the Internet and employ a variety of applications. What’s more, their teachers across all academic areas are using digital communications tools to produce engaging curriculum and content as a means of connecting with students and parents.

Schoolwide Access
Engineering the digital integration, the Kutztown district technology staff installed software to support student learning, including Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com) Office 2004, Macromedia Studio, Apple’s iLife Suite, and content resources such as Logger Pro, Geometer’s Sketchpad, Mathematica, Eazy-Draw, Omnigraffle Pro, and a host of other programs. Kutztown purchased the Macromedia Studio K-12 Site License which, for one flat fee, gave the district use of the software throughout the school. The license also includes K-12 curriculum, teacher training, and teacher home-use rights. Not surprisingly, the positive contribution of these resources is now experienced campuswide.

The classroom. In the school’s Web design class, for one, students are learning to use Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Freehand, and Flash. Although students are learning to use industry-standard software while building career skills, the ultimate goal of the class is to provide them with a way to develop critical-thinking and collaborative skills. The students work in groups, choosing the communications media while learning to troubleshoot and work together, persevering through the process of creating and completing a technology-integrated project.

In addition to using Macromedia software, teachers are using the company’s project-based curriculum in the Web design class. The curriculum is also available in the library, enabling students who are not enrolled in the class to learn how to use the applications, as well. Even ninth-graders are teaching themselves to use programs like Flash, and building animations that they can add to iMovie and other multimedia projects. All high school students can check out a range of digital equipment to use for their projects, such asvideo and digital cameras, scanners, and sound equipment.

The library. The high school library and its accompanying Web site have become a focal point for all students, offering an extensive array of reference resources, 24/7, to help students complete their assignments. Student use of online resources, such as the Pennsylvania Online World of Electronic Resources (POWER) library system (http://www.powerlibrary.net), has soared. Access to more and more online journals and reference materials is being added each summer throughout the implementation process. These reference materials are instrumental in the success of student projects, whether they are multimedia in nature or of a more traditional construction. Still, having the tools is one thing; having easy access to the reference materials in order to complete a quality assignment is essential to the success of the program.

Gaining an Edge
The use of digital applications has given Kutztown students a real advantage over their peers by opening up their options. Many students are using Macromedia digital tools as well as the iLife suite to put together their senior projects, previously presented mostly as research papers before the launch of the laptop program. The students are now preparing electronic portfolios when applying to colleges in order to give a better, broader presentation of their academic and extracurricular achievements.

The response from parents in the district, some of whom work in multimedia design or teach at the local university, has been great, too. Parents appreciate the boost their children are getting by having access to industry-standard software from Macromedia right on their laptops. James Sposto is one of those parents. As managing partner and creative director for his Web design firm, Sposto Interactive (http://www.sposto.com), he was a great resource in selecting software for the high school. “As an employer, I need people with digital communication skills,” Sposto says. “The type of thinking that’s involved when developing multimedia projects translates well to any type of creative thinking. Digital skills are part of the palette that young people will need for communicating in the future. Macromedia tools hold a solid grounding in those arts and thinking skills.”

Our Vision
The district continues to encourage teachers to provide an interactive educational environment. We believe that when students learn new digital communications skills and teachers integrate technology into the curriculum in a meaningful and practical manner, students will develop important critical- thinking and collaborative skills simultaneously.

Overall, Kutztown’s 1-to-1 laptop program is opening many doors for the district’s high school students and teachers. New digital communications skills are being acquired that can be applied in the classroom and beyond. Teachers are finding that the students are more motivated and that the quality of their assignments has continued to grow throughout the implementation of the program. Parents are pleased that their children are learning to use professional-quality software through curriculum integration, while acquiring the skills that will bring them success in the real world. At Kutztown, this strategy has enabled high school students to have access to the technology resources that are preparing them for the future.

Training in Tiers
Teachers and student ‘tech gurus’ prove to be vital resources for Kutztown’s laptop initiative.
Professional training is always an important component when launching such a large implementation. Working with the high school principal and assistant superintendent, the Kutztown Area School District set up training for teachers, grouping them into three tiers. Tier 1 included a group of early adopters interested in integrating the new technologies immediately. The district had planned on training three tiers in three years, but because of the great feedback, bumped up the schedule and has already begun training the final twotiers of teachers.

The teachers attend eight full days of training and are paired with training mentors. The training is focused on practical uses of all the software that is included with the laptops. Teachers come away from the sessions with well designed lessons they can begin to incorporate into their classrooms immediately. The teachers also are afforded collaborative time with their peers to discuss projects and use each other for support throughout the process. “Quick Hitter” training sessions on a variety of topics are held every other Thursday before school, and many of the topics are generatedthrough suggestions made by the teachers.

Another outstanding resource has been the students themselves. A group of 20 high school students was trained to be”tech gurus” and help the district support team assist otherstudents and faculty with the laptops and software.

Mark Erb is the technology director for the Kutztown Area School District.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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