The Impact of Education Technology on the Future of Individualized Learning

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Miami Public Schools in Oklahoma prides itself on being an early adopter of technology, thanks to a leadership team that truly values the benefits of technology as they relate to education and the future of individualized learning. As educators, we have a responsibility for creating a positive learning environment where all students have the opportunity to achieve academic success and become productive, responsible citizens. As such, our goal was to build a technology infrastructure that would support this mission.

For Miami PS, this infrastructure took the shape of a student information system. With the right system in place, we believed that we could better address the challenges of achievement, reporting, growth, and scalability, all while enhancing the performance of all district stakeholders, from administrators and teachers to parents and students.

Making an investment in a technology infrastructure was not without its challenges. The industry is ripe with solutions and promises on the future of education; however, many are unable to deliver on these promises. With limited IT resources, many schools and districts don't know how to maximize their technology investments since budget constraints often hinder necessary technology implementations.

In 2002, we struggled with an inefficient and disparate system for reporting, scheduling, and attendance in the face of a steadily increasing amount of student data. We knew we needed to make the leap to a Web-based system; however, we also knew that time, budget and an overall fear of change would impede some of our efforts. From learning a new program to implementing vast amounts of data to embracing a new technology mindset, the transition required a huge level of patience and persistence on the part of all Miami PS end users.

The Benefits of an Open Solution
With more than 2,500 students and 250 faculty members, we needed a flexible, customizable student information solution that would enable us to meet the challenges of achievement, reporting, growth and scalability. In addition to tracking grades and attendance, the eight schools within our district are required to track information such as demographics, contacts, medical events and conditions, discipline, language, and more. In adopting a comprehensive technology infrastructure, we needed to act and think as one cohesive district as opposed to eight individual schools in a similar geographic location.

In 2002, we became the first public school in the northeast corner of Oklahoma to adopt PowerSchool, which offered us easy access to real-time data via a standard Web browser. This universal platform solution enabled us to start functioning as a cohesive district, which, in turn, would eventually allow us to focus more on student performance and individualized learning (versus operations and logistics).

We enthusiastically launched our new technology solution, leveraging every aspect of the system within the first year, including PowerLunch (a school cafeteria point of service software module), Standards Reporting, and Parent Access. The system's communication tools made it simple for our students, parents, teachers, and administrators to collaborate to support our aim of improved overall student achievement.

The Accountability of Educators
As educators focused on the future of individualized learning, we sought a solution that offered data aggregation, alignment, collaboration, and performance analysis capabilities. With the appropriate performance infrastructure in place, everyone has become more accountable--administrators, teachers, staff, and students. We believe that we are only as good as our data, and we strive to be as thorough and accurate in our data collection and presentation as possible. This student information system allows our administrators to accurately track enrollment trends and grade distribution; teachers to enhance and adjusts their curriculum to meet the specific student's needs; staff to be timely and efficient in parental contacts and class attendance; and students to be knowledgeable and accountable for their own assignments, attendance and ultimately grades.

With PowerSchool, we've found Miami PS teachers can more quickly and efficiently develop their lessons and focus on the individual needs of each student, resulting in a more personalized and customized educational experience and overall improvements in student performance. In fact, we are now able to monitor students with lower grades on a more individualized basis and are better equipped to provide them with additional help, such as tutoring, before it is too late. We are also using the system to manage discipline and attendance in tandem with local authorities, when necessary, and can better monitor student behavior.

By creating a detailed view into our students' performance, teachers are better able to deliver customized education plans incorporating the appropriate curriculum and tools (digital, multimedia, or print) to ensure comprehension and retention are optimized throughout the learning process. Additionally, PowerSchool provides our administrators with the ability to view, share, analyze, and customize data from multiple vantage points, and facilitates optimum performance and success through analysis and comparisons of student, school, and district performances at all levels.

The Impact of Parental Involvement
Above all, we believe academic achievement is dependent on the combined efforts of students, teachers, and parents whose involvement must include encouraging good school attendance, monitoring and assisting with homework, providing daily reading time, conferencing often with the classroom teacher, and participating in school activities. We recognize that this is a big responsibility for parents, but we firmly believe their involvement has a significant impact on student achievement.

Miami PS had the vision, but we needed a technology that would make this function easy, quick and accessible for parents. We wanted to give every parent the ability to access student information whenever, wherever they needed. PowerSchool's parent portal enabled us to do this and has become a visible and essential part of our educational process. In fact, few Web-based systems offered parent portal at the time of our implementation. By integrating this tool, we all stay connected in real-time: Students stay on top of assignments; parents can participate more fully in student progress; and Miami PS teachers can use their grade book to make decisions on the information they share with parents and students.

The parent portal has received an overwhelmingly positive response from parents and students, particularly at the high school level. In our district, approximately 70 percent of parents of high school students are using parent access to monitor student data. Parents receive weekly progress reports, attendance information, and even a student's lunch balance report. In fact, we've found that students are logging on more often than their parents!

Today, PowerSchool's parent access feature is a favorite among our parents, teachers, and administrators, creating increased accountability among all parties. This infrastructure has transformed a typical Miami PS parent-teacher conference from a one-way discussion outlining a student's performance into a dynamic and collaborative conversation about strategies and next steps for increased improvement and success that impact the future of individualized learning.

Future-proofing Our Investment
We know firsthand that finding the right student information system and making that initial investment can be a challenge for schools and districts, which is why we chose to future-proof our investment with a SIF-based system. SIF is an open technical standard that allows schools and districts to select and integrate various best-of-breed applications into a single enterprise-level system with the capability and scalability to grow along with their needs.

By using PowerSchool, a SIF-compliant system, our district has been able to protect its investment while gaining access to timely, accurate information when and where it's needed. From uploading attendance and membership data to the State of Oklahoma to sending registration information to other software, a SIF-based system allows for seamless sharing of data.

In collecting this data, we have gained a customized view into the performance of our students, schools, and districts in comparison to their peers. Additionally, by increasing the open nature of our system, we are better able to facilitate the transition of students from K-12 to college by easily sharing student performance data, records, and transcripts with the higher education community. Just as we can maximize individual learning in each student's early years, those performance metrics can be--and should be--shared with post-secondary schools to further elevate success and achievement.

The future of education is individualized learning which ensures that the talents of each student are maximized and that individual challenges are overcome. While our teachers remain at the heart of this goal, we believe technology can be the catalyst. The right performance infrastructure allows us to transform data into information and information into action. In its most evolved state, this kind of performance infrastructure will open doors and overcome limitations, maximizing each stakeholder's ability to contribute to the success of student achievement.

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About the author:Sandy Ankenman is district technologist for Miami Public Schools in Oklahoma. You can contact Sandy at sankenman@miami.k12.ok.us.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

Sandy Ankenman is district technologist for Miami Public Schools in Oklahoma. You can contact Sandy at sankenman@miami.k12.ok.us.

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