Troy School District's Integration of Media Curriculum
Driven by a vision that technology can help a school district function more efficiently and effectively, Michigan's Troy School District recently completed the enormous task of implementing voice, video and data communications in each of its 19 school buildings and within every classroom in the district. The comprehensive project also provided communications for Troy through the simultaneous installation of two WANs, linking the school district to city buildings. An estimated $750,000 was saved on the implementation.
The Troy School District includes more than 12,000 students who are enrolled in 12 elementary schools, four middle schools, two traditional high schools and an alternative high school. In addition, more than 25,000 students, ranging from toddlers to senior citizens, participate in over 250 continuing education courses and programs at Troy's schools.
The district's technological vision began evolving when it hired Integrated Design Solutions LLC to work closely with the Technology Advisory Committee (TAC). Steve Shotwell, the district's director of technology, oversaw the TAC, a 75-member group representing residents, parents, teachers, students, administrators, consultants and the school board. Members were presented with a list of five objectives, which included reviewing the technological visions and projects that were part of a bond issue, as well as providing advice on the specifications and features technology systems should contain. The committee was also asked to give advice on how technology systems might better serve the instructional needs of the district and the Troy community.
After working with all of the stakeholders, the TAC addressed the first issue: In an era of sharing, must individuals stay within the confines of their buildings? The TAC wanted to share all communication functions among all offices and classrooms within the district. Next, the district looked at its geography. Its current technology support facility, the proposed technology hub, was located in the Southeast sector of the community. Using the existing building as the district technology center posed two major challenges: rehabilitating the old district office to handle the cabling and all of the other technology proposed in the project would result in significant up-charges; and the building was not centrally located within the district. The district would see significant cost savings if all cabling was brought to a location closer to the geographic center of the school district. Although funding for a new services building significantly increased the amount of the bond issue, voters resoundingly approved the entire project. It was completed in multiple stages over a two-year period.
While the data and phone systems were large projects, the video distribution system greatly enhanced every teacher's ability to instruct students using video media, according to Shotwell. This system lets each user share and control multiple types of video sources located throughout the district. It uses control hardware and software provided by Dukane Corp. The Dukane SmartSystem links more than 800 classrooms in 19 buildings, with the services building as its hub.
The district uses a broadband video distribution network with up to 110 channels. Each school can locally transmit video resources on the lower channels, while the district hub shares resources on the higher channels. The unique design of the system lets the district originate a video signal from any classroom and share it across some or all classrooms. For example, when a video page is initiated, every television in the district can be automatically turned on. The televisions are then tuned to a specific channel on which the page is broadcast. All televisions automatically turn off at the end of the video page. Video pages can be sent to all televisions, to designated paging zones or to specific televisions. SmartSystem also controls and distributes media from VCRs, laserdisc players, DVDs, cable channels and live remote cameras in the buildings.
The SmartSystem proved to be an important tool when the district was hit by a computer virus. Due to the nature of the virus, the technology support team could not use e-mail to notify teachers because that would spread the virus. Instead, Shotwell initiated a video page from the district services building using a bulletin board channel to inform all teachers to turn off their computers until they received further instructions. District personnel gave teachers video updates throughout the day and were able to notify teachers all at once when the system was safe to use.
"While the students see the announcements as fun, it is actually real-world learning," says Cathy Marine, director of media services. The students learn to speak, organize and research the information each day. It requires a lot of teamwork." Marine is also excited by the way the video system will be used for student learning and professional development.
The Troy School District's voice, video and data system has been operational for two years. Teachers have been trained in the comprehensive use of all technology systems, and the district is currently experimenting with creative ways to use the video delivery system. They are excited and encouraged by the early success of the districtwide capabilities of SmartSystem.
St. Charles, IL
This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.