More Than Machines

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This is a special feature from the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

Comprehensive technology integration programs go beyond laptop initiatives to provide teachers with the support they need to improve student engagement and achievement.

More Than Machines

HELLO OUT THERE! A webcam
lets homebound Nicholas Huether
participate in his fourth-grade class.

"WHAT A DIFFERENCE THIS PROGRAM has made for Nicholas-- it is wonderful!" exclaims Geneas Huether, Nicholas' mother. "He actually hears the lessons, he can ask questions, hear the class discussion-- and he even takes a lunch break when the class has lunch."

Fourth-grader Nicholas is a homebound cancer patient who attends Plainview Elementary School in rural Chesterfield County, SC. This year he was provided a laptop and webcam as part of Chesterfield County School District's Student Technology and Education Proficiency initiative.

Prior to the implementation of the STEP program in 2007, this kind of direct virtual participation would have been impossible. In his several previous homebound experiences, Nicholas was isolated, working independently with little to no communication with his teachers or fellow students. "Other years, Nicholas just had a teacher visit him in the afternoon and quickly go over his work," Huether says. "Now he is really part of the class and can see his friends. We hope that he can return to school next fall, but if he can't, we can't imagine working without this program."

Nicholas' experience offers a glimpse of what Chesterfield's STEP program has made possible. Much more than a laptop program, it is a model example of a comprehensive approach to improving teaching practices through the use of technology. The goal, according to John Wagnon, the district's educational technology director, is "to help improve academic achievement and technology literacy scores through increased student engagement."

"The transformation has been amazing. If we took the technology away from the teachers now, I'm not sure they would know what to do."

The initial STEP funding came from Title II-D of the No Child Left Behind Act-- Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT)-- and provided each sixth-grader at Plainview Elementary School and McBee Elementary School and each seventh-grader at McBee High School with a laptop computer for use at school and home. In addition, through an agreement with the local telephone company, students with limited economic means are provided free home internet installation and a reduced rate of $5 per month for service fees.

STEP classrooms receive a host of digital tools, including document cameras, interactive whiteboards, and projectors. Another key feature: technology coaches, who train participating teachers and, Wagnon says, instill "a comfort level" that allows teachers to "innovate and explore new avenues."

The tech coaches have also helped guide teachers in using the new tools to incorporate project-based learning into core subjects. According to technology coach Pat Hendrickson, this has been key to the success of the program. For example, at McBee, sixth-graders typically participate in The Stock Market Game, in which students invest a hypothetical $100,000 in an online portfolio, and Plainview sixth-graders take part in Junior Achievement's JA Global Marketplace, which teaches students about the global economy and how it affects them.

"This element of the program encourages teachers to collaborate with one another and compels students to work across the curriculum," Hendrickson says.

The district credits these instructional changes for the major gains its students made on standardized tests at the end of the 2007-2008 school year. Overall, 66 percent of Chesterfield students exceeded their expected subtest scores in reading on the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, and 48 percent exceeded their normative growth expectation in math. Even an improvement in behavior is credited to STEP. There were 361 disciplinary incidents in the Chesterfield district during the project year, whereas 823 incidents were recorded a year earlier.

"The capacity of teachers to motivate adolescents in an academic setting has its limitations," Wagnon says. "We believe that the laptop technology served to enhance student motivation, resulting in a more productive learning environment."

These kinds of outcomes are convincing states and districts across the country to focus their resources on similar comprehensive integration models. The State Educational Technology Directors Association's (SETDA) "2009 National Trends Report: Focus on Technology Integration in America's Schools" looks at efforts to replicate the successes of previous EETT grantees, including North Carolina's Impact model and Texas' Technology Immersion Project (TIP). Data from the study shows notable improvements in achievement among students who receive a technology-supported education. One dramatic statistic comes from Greene Central High School in Snow Hill, NC, where college-going rates rose from 26 percent to 84 percent in the five years since implementation of a modified Impact model. Arthur L. Davila Middle School in Bryan, TX, a TIP participant, has seen its scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills increase steadily in both math and reading over the past two years. Among the school's seventh-graders, the pass rate on the reading portion of the TAKS rose from 62 percent to 75 percent, and on math from 51 percent to 65 percent.

After seeing similar academic gains made by its students, Chesterfield extended the STEP program to McBee High eighthgraders this year, and then for 2009-2010 won a new EETT grant that will continue the laptop program for all three grades.

In addition to the federal support, Chesterfield is receiving a boost from the state that will allow it to install WiFi service and LCD monitors on its school buses. The district encompasses both the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge and the Sand Hills State Forest; transporting students around the park and/or forest to their schools means commutes that can exceed three hours round-trip. The new technology will enable students to make the most of the travel time.

Short videos that support classroom instruction will be shown on the monitors, as well as others on topics relevant to students, such as study skills, bullying, and protecting the environment. STEP students will also have the option of using their laptops for independent online activities via the WiFi connection. The state is partnering with AT&T, which will bear most of the project's equipment costs.

"Despite the challenging economic times," Hendrickson says of the district's tech integration efforts, "we are making it work."

A Spirit of Collaboration

Another striking model of the success of comprehensive technology integration is found in Pennsylvania, where state money goes to finance equipment, infrastructure, tech support, and professional development for schools participating in Classrooms for the Future, an initiative that puts advanced technology tools into the classrooms of high school students across the state.

Southern Columbia Area School District's lone high school implemented CFF in 2006. The small, rural district's vision of technology-infused education is founded on strong leadership, professional development, increased broadband access, and project-based learning in the core curriculum areas. It found a perfect partner and sponsor in CFF, which could flesh out that vision with the technology tools necessary to fulfill it.

The program, explains Ian McCoog, a CFF technology coach, has equipped teachers with laptops, printers, digital whiteboards, projectors, and cameras. "Mobile laptop carts are provided for each classroom in math, language arts, science, and social studies," McCoog says. "The special education department also has a laptop cart and the media center has [one] for after-school use. These additional carts were not provided by CFF, but they are an example of how we are building upon the program."

Ongoing professional development has been key to the effectiveness of the implementation. "The best thing about this grant is the coach/mentor," says Brian Davis, the district's secondary technology coordinator. He says technology coaches work with teachers alone and in groups and also provide training in Web 2.0 tools. "Having these coaches has empowered our teachers."

The training continues online, where teachers take courses from Embedded Learning that focus on technology integration. Plus, the state provides basic hardware and software training. And through Pennsylvania's intermediate units, regional agencies that act as liasons between the school districts and the state department of education, CFF districts have begun collaborating on lesson plans and tech-integration ideas. "We never had such collaboration in the past," says McCoog. "The grants have made our large state smaller somehow."

Southern Columbia has helped its own implementation by increasing broadband speed from 3 Mbps to 10 Mbps via the state's Educational Technology Fund, which also supports internet service at the district's three schools. With better broadband service combined with the new tools and tech training, Southern Columbia High School teachers are taking full advantage of the open source tool Moodle. "One of our more experienced English teachers, a former technophobe, now has his entire curriculum available via Moodle and shares Shakespeare YouTube videos with his class regularly," says Davis. "The transformation has been amazing. If we took the technology away from the teachers now, I'm not sure they would know what to do."

Backed by the technology, Southern Columbia teachers are able to enliven classroom lessons with project-based learning. "For example," McCoog says, "this spring, science students participated in the 2009 Stream Cleaner Environmental Forum. Our students joined students from four other states that connect to the Chesapeake Bay watershed in exploring environmental issues. This wouldn't have been possible three years ago."

The rise in student engagement is reflected in the testing data: Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) reading, writing, and math scores for Southern Columbia 11th-graders have increased, including an 8 percent increase in math scores over the two years since CFF was implemented.

Based on the success the program has had at the high school, the district is at work creating a plan for refreshing equipment over the next three years and has expanded the program to seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms at Southern Columbia's middle school for the 2009-2010 school year by purchasing thinclient notebooks. "We are trying to be proactive when planning for the future, especially with hardware replacements and technical support," says Davis. "We know that we can't turn back now."

Lasting Benefits

Chesterfield County and Southern Columbia are both now working to maintain their programs despite the expiration of their initial grants, finding ways to stretch their resources while applying for new grants to support their programs. Together the two districts demonstrate that no matter where you find your funding, whether at the federal or state level, the imperative is having a comprehensive plan that accounts for more than just the distribution of machines, but creates a technology-rich learning environment that is supported by ongoing professional development, technology coaches, high-quality curriculum, sufficient broadband access, and administrative leadership.

The full impact of comprehensive technology integration is found in the thoughts of Dennis McDaniel, principal at Chesterfield's Plainview Elementary, who says the infusion of technology has been "a great blessing" for his school and believes that the project's influence will have staying power. "Learning has been totally transformed for our sixth-graders," he says. "We expect that this will pay tremendous dividends as the progress of these students is measured through standardized tests and other methods for the remainder of their school career."

::WEBEXTRAS ::
For more information on technology integration, visit our website at www.thejournal.com. In the Browse by Topic menu, click on Integration/Networking.

Christine Fox is SETDA's director of professional development and research.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.

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