The Trumbull County Community Network Project
In the early 1990s, the school districts of Trumbull County, OH were similar to most schools in the amount of technology available to teachers, administrators and students. At that time, very few schools in the country had access to significant numbers of computers, and fewer still were wired to the Internet. This paper reports on the project that changed that situation by making an organized effort to infuse technology into K-12 schools. Although this project required a great deal of commitment on the part of the districts involved, that commitment has resulted in substantial technology integration in the K-12 classrooms in Trumbull County.
The project was conceived by a council established in 1992 with members from area business, industry, government and education dedicated to the creation and organization of a community-based information network. The council, called TCBAC (Trumbull County Business Advisory Council), spent two years researching possible technologies. The goal was to determine the resources necessary to help K-12 students develop the technological skills needed in Trumbull County’s workforce.
In 1994, 100 participants from the community attended a three-day conference to assess hundreds of issues. From this conference, the council identified action plans and committees. The primary goal was the prioritization of a countywide technology plan for the 21st century.
As a result of this planning process, the council proposed to provide a computer lab in every high school in the county, seven distance learning labs, and technology training for approximately 2,400 teachers, administrators and staff. Ultimately, 22 districts participated, including all 20 of the exempted villages, local and city districts, as well as a joint vocational school and a parochial high school. Half of the $4.2 million proposal was to be funded by the schools, local businesses and industries, and local government agencies. The other half was funded by the state of Ohio. The funding was spread out over three years, and the project, named the Trumbull County Community Network (TCCN), began in the fall of 1996.
As part of the support from the various administrations, each district was required to identify technology coordinators and building technology mentors, and to allocate time for training. Districts often had to hire substitutes to relieve teachers and staff members of their duties so they could attend training. This was a significant expense and commitment for participating districts.
The technology coordinators are central to TCCN. They hold monthly countywide meetings to share ideas, provide technical training, and help with the often-overwhelming paperwork required by school districts to receive technology funding from various sources. For example, the e-rate, a result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, provides telecommunications discounts based on free and reduced lunch counts in the district. It includes cost savings on telephones, connectivity for distance learning labs and the Internet.
The TCCN project required additional staffing at the Trumbull County Educational Service Center. These new positions would provide the administrative and technical infrastructure needed to deliver and support the different phases of the project. Consequently, the funding provided for a director of technology to coordinate the project, a coordinator of broadcast services to design and implement the distance learning labs, a training supervisor to develop and deliver the training, and a technical support position. These positions were designed to work closely with the districts, so a key goal for the first year was to fill them. Other goals for the first year of TCCN included: assisting the districts in completing their technology plans; working with districts to identify the technology coordinators and building technology mentors; identifying the training objectives and establishing a training schedule; designing and implementing the computer and distance learning labs; and establishing a software preview site.
These goals involved a number of requirements. Each district was required to develop a technology plan to identify the needs and goals specific to its requirements. Although there was no expectation that the plans would be uniform, TCCN tried to assist the districts in planning for their own needs and in coordinating plans across districts when necessary. The role of the technology coordinator in each district is to provide technical assistance to help the district meet the needs and goals outlined in its technology plan. Technology mentors were identified in each of the 95 buildings in the county. These individuals were targeted to receive training in integrating technology into the classroom. The mentors were then expected to return to their districts to provide training to their fellow teachers.
The project identified training objectives for the district technology coordinators, as well as the administrators, supervisors, counselors, secretaries and classroom teachers. In some cases, training objectives overlapped, but often they were specific to each role. A training schedule was devised, which included four full days of training for the building technology mentors. The training was free for the three-year duration of the funding, but required that the district fund any necessary substitutes. The districts also agreed to integrate technology into the language arts curriculum by the end of the first year of the program.
Each district was allocated approximately $65,000 for a computer lab that had to include 20 student stations, one teacher station and one laser printer. The district could spend any remaining money on room renovation and peripherals, such as digital cameras, color scanners and color inkjet printers. Some districts opted to purchase additional computers with their own money to increase the total number of computers in their labs. In order to facilitate training and sharing of materials, all districts in the county opted to standardize on Gateway computers, Hewlett-Packard printers and the Microsoft Office suite of software. This also created lower costs on both software and hardware purchases countywide.
One computer lab was installed at the county Educational Service Center, and a great deal of training took place there. Many of the school districts also had in-house training. Each district approached the use of teacher time differently. The plans ranged from requiring a specific number of training hours as part of teacher contracts (with trainers paid a supplement) to teachers volunteering their time to teach and take workshops. Other districts pay their teachers with SchoolNet money, allocated to districts for such purposes, to do technology training for other teachers in that district. SchoolNet is a state-funded organization devoted to integrating technology into the classroom. Some districts use teacher in-service days to do technology training, and teachers in the district volunteer to train their colleagues.
As part of the project funding, districts were required to make the computer labs available for community access. Districts have offered evening workshops on topics like the Internet or Microsoft application software. These workshops either were free or charged a nominal fee, and were well received by their respective communities. Many districts made the labs available to students after school to do homework or work on school projects.
Six school districts were identified for distance learning labs based on their location and their willingness to commit to the project. Another lab was installed at the Educational Service Center. The labs were directly connected via fiber optic lines and ran uncompressed video. Each site had one sending and three receiving monitors, and each monitor was programmed using a VCR. The typical session included up to four sites and could be programmed by the teacher simply by changing the channel on each VCR to the channel of the school they wished to see on that monitor.
Various software companies were asked to provide free preview copies of their educational products. Faculty can visit the computer lab at the Education Service Center to preview the software or request it to be sent to their district to preview. In addition, many of the workshops, including the four-day mentor training sessions, installed the software for practice and previewed it. After previewing the educational software (such as Math Blaster) to determine if it would do what they had hoped, the districts could purchase the software through a vendor.
In the first year, every building in the county named a technology mentor. Sixty-five of the mentors attended four days of training at the Educational Service Center computer lab, and 30 more received two days of on-site training. Three hundred teachers, students, guidance counselors, librarians, administrators, and others participated in at least one computer workshop. Thirty-two business and community workshops were held at the Educational Service Center computer lab, and 12 secretaries attended at least one computer workshop.
The idea that the Building Technology Mentors would go back to their building and train other teachers wasn’t as effective as we had hoped. The mentors had been very helpful to their colleagues in the buildings by providing technology advice and mentoring, but not all of them felt confident enough to do onsite training. In addition, because of the lack of compensation and the additional time requirements, some opted not to fill the role as much as others. As a result, it was decided to offer training to all teachers for four days at the Educational Service Center.
Regular monthly countywide technology coordinator meetings were held for training and to disseminate information pertinent to the districts throughout the project. A Web site was created to share information and resources available to educators in the county and beyond, and also to provide starting points for teachers in subject areas (www.trumbull.k12.oh.us).
The mentors wrote lesson plans that integrated technology into different curriculum areas. Although the language arts area was the primary target, teachers from other areas also added lesson plans. The lesson plans were published on the Web site.
With the computer labs in place and the installation of the distance learning labs underway in the first year, the goal of the TCCN project in the second year was to expand to include training opportunities for local government agencies, and for business and industry. In addition, the districts agreed to integrate technology in all curriculum areas (math, science, social studies and language arts) by the end of the 1997-98 school year.
Building technology mentors from the first year were expected to return for an additional three days of training. The goal for training was to focus more on the actual integration of technology into the curriculum, and include more Internet, multimedia and Web page creation.
Another goal was to use the distance learning portion of the project effectively. The distance learning portion of the TCCN project is known as the TCCN Telecommunity Classroom Network. It is a comprehensive, countywide network that distributes interactive programming to schools, businesses, government offices, homes and service agencies.
Fifty of the mentors returned for an additional three days of training at the Educational Service Center lab, and fifteen others received one day of on-site training. Ninety teachers attended four days of training. Five hundred teachers, students, guidance counselors, librarians, administrators, and so forth participated in a computer workshop. Thirty-seven business and community workshops were held at the Educational Service Center lab, and 12 secretaries attended at least one computer workshop. The four days of initial training were open to all interested teachers. Technology-integration lesson plans developed by the county teachers were continuously added to the Web site.
The Educational Service Center was given programming control over the local, educational and government stations on the local cable system. They determined the programming for all three channels, and primarily offered educational shows downloaded via a satellite feed.
In conjunction with a statewide initiative for technology training for K-12 educators, additional training needs were identified to meet the Novice Certification in Productivity and Information Tools. With this training, teachers would receive a certificate for 24 total contact hours. The levels of technology proficiency are defined by SchoolNet, and include different tracks (Productivity Tools, Information Tools, Networking Tools, Media/Hypermedia Tools) at different levels of proficiency.
As an example, a novice level teacher in the Productivity Tools track would be expected to know how to create and use spreadsheets, databases, and word processing documents. Someone at the practitioner level should be able to demonstrate the use of those skills in the classroom by developing lesson labs and by integrating technology into their curriculum.
Seventy-one technology mentors attended sessions to complete performance tasks for the SchoolNet Novice training, which requires that teachers gain and demonstrate basic technology skills. One hundred and twenty teachers attended four days of training that included novice training in Productivity and Information. Sixty-five educational service staff and 35 teachers completed novice training in Productivity Tools. One hundred teachers, students, guidance counselors, librarians, and administrators participated in a computer workshop. One hundred secretaries attended at least one computer workshop.
In this year of the project, school districts were doing much more in-house technology training for administrators, teachers, students and staff. Special workshops geared toward an office environment were developed at the Educational Service Center using the Microsoft Office Suite for secretaries. Graduate level technology education courses were offered in the Educational Service Center computer lab through Ashland University, Kent State University, and Youngstown State University.
Goals and Beyond
The goals of TCCN for the future are to increase the integration of technology into every curriculum area, to expand the network beyond Trumbull County, and to offer enriching educational opportunities to enhance existing programs. These include Web-based courses for students and educators, in addition to other distance learning opportunities. Funding sources need to be identified and procured to continue the program.
Results to Date
Through an additional grant, the Educational Service Center purchased mobile video conferencing units for each of the buildings that host a distance learning lab. They also purchased a bridge that allows them to connect to the state distance learning network. This allows more learning opportunities with other organizations throughout the state, including the Cincinnati Zoo, Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History. Additional funding has also been received in the form of grants and contributions from the districts for continued educational and technological support.
The TCCN Telecommunity distance learning network is being used to share thematic units between teachers of different districts, and to offer guidance for preparing for the proficiency exams from the School Improvement division of the Educational Service Center. With the assistance of the Educational Service Center, teachers have developed thematic units and lessons that integrate technology into all of the major curriculum areas. As courses of study are revised, they also include technology integration.
Both K-12 and post-secondary classes are offered in the distance learning labs. In the 1999-2000 school year, 16 courses were offered. The classes were primarily courses that students were not able to get in their own districts. These K-12 classes included The Holocaust, Chinese, Communication/Speech, Business, Global Studies, Music Appreciation, and Spanish IV. University-level courses have included Astronomy, Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe, and American Government. The university courses are open to high school students in the Early Admission (SB140) program. This program allows high school students to take colleges courses for free. The credits can either be applied toward their high school requirements or toward college credit. University students who wish to take the course meet at the Educational Service Center. High school students from a district that d'es not have a distance learning lab must travel to one of the sites involved.
To encourage the use of the Web, the Trumbull County Educational Service Center offered to host Web pages for the districts and/or assist them with their creation and maintenance. Since the TCCN project provided for a server in all of the districts, many districts opted to use that server as their Web server as well, and requested assistance from the Educational Service Center when setting them up.
Over the course of the TCCN project, technology training was available to members from area businesses, industries, government and educational institutions in the county. This training and the support from the Educational Service Center has enabled the school districts to integrate technology into their classrooms, and to provide students with hands-on access to technology that they will need to succeed in today’s workforce.
The Educational Service Center continues to evaluate the TCCN plan to ensure that it aligns with the original mission of the project. “It is the mission of the Trumbull County Schools to maximize individual student achievement through access to and application of technologies, and to graduate lifelong learners who possess communication, problem solving and technological skills that ensure their productivity in the global marketplace.”
Ruth Watson is an assistant professor at Kent State University, Trumbull Campus and a Ph.D. student in the Instructional Technology program at Kent State University. She is certified as an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) and an MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) and has worked with the Trumbull County Educational Service Center as a technology consultant since the early 90s. Ruth has been involved with the TCCN project since the beginning.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.