Our Future In/With/Of/Beyond Instructional Technology

I left the classroom to become an instructional technology coordinator six years ago this month. When I left, I went to work to try to make sure that the infrastructure that could support the types of learning and learning environments that I wanted as a teacher would exist and be available to anyone in my organization who wanted it. I believed that we had a great deal of work to do to create a 21st Century learning environment. And in that time, we’ve made a great deal of progress.

This last semester, I think we took another huge leap forward. Through the thoughtfulness of the voters of the St. Vrain Valley School District, we were able to pass a mill levy last November that provided for the next generation of technology in our district, and because of that financial support, we had the opportunity to begin to think very differently about the technology landscape of our students. I was lucky to have the chance, with my colleagues Michelle Bourgeois and Kyle Addington, to facilitate a large community input process to consider what the next five years of instructional technology in our district should look like. The funding stream approved by voters was a lifeline – it would have allowed for us to maintain our current technology offerings as a sustainable and renewable resource.

But, we wondered, was sustaining what we had the best way to move forward as a learning organization? Might we begin to think differently about computing and computers and technology in our schools? The answer, our committee helped us to see, was yes.

And so I’m pleased to tell you that over the next four years, we’ll be moving in a new direction in St. Vrain, one that changes the way that we deploy learning technologies and moves the focus of our work from supporting classrooms to better supporting, I hope, learners, teachers and learning.

The broad strokes of the plan, which you can read more about here, are these:
1. An iPad mini 1:1 for all students in 6th through 12th grades
2. A shift to classroom computers that support teachers to create and distribute learning resources for student devices.
3. iPad minis for teachers to support their adoption and use of the iOS platform for teaching and learning
4. The continued support of our school computer labs for use as “going deeper” computing spaces as well as the spaces where our new state assessments will be administered
5. Additional resources and devices in the elementary and middle schools to support the shift away from technology as an event and as a habit of learning at all levels.

The biggest shift, as I see it, is the idea that our students require a dedicated learning device as their tool for managing their own learning. As of today, that device is an iPad mini1. That’s the right device right now, according to our community process. It was a deliberate and thoughtful process. As the landscape of devices and options continues to evolve, we may see fit to anoint another device down the road. But the larger point is this – learning today requires access. And that access standard should be set at a much higher minimum than it has been set in the past. I hope we take full advantage of the possibilities of this shift. I also hope that we continue to stay focused on this technology deployment not as a device initiative, but as a learning initiative.

Our plan isn’t perfect. No plan is. But it’s an exciting next step.

Tonight, we’ll be briefing our school board on the plan and our next steps for implementation. It is my hope and strong desire that we can use the next school year as a readiness year as we prepare for our deployment. While I’d love to move faster and immediately to deploy thousands of personal learning devices in St. Vrain, I’d rather move more slowly, thoughtfully and deliberately as we work to create the next generation of learning experiences in the district. There are implications in this work for new ways of sharing curricular resources, and of shifting instruction into more thoughtful spaces. The realities of the other shifts on the horizon – shifts in curriculum, in resources to support that curriculum, and when and where learning can and should occur – mean that there’s plenty more change ahead. I hope we can thoughtfully and carefully manage that change and all the associated details and operational issues that result as these shifts occur. That’s going to be hard, but worth doing.

At a recent training event for our teachers on the implications of teaching and learning in a time of Common Core State Standards, our director of curriculum, Kahle Charles, shared this slide as a way of thinking about what our classrooms could and should look like:

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I really appreciated this instructional and classroom vision, and think our work with technology deployment can only serve to strengthen this vision. But it will require lots of work in our classrooms and with our staff to ensure that we create new opportunities for innovation and collaboration rather than a new set of rules of compliance. I am excited to move forward to making these new visions a reality, and I believe this process and the thoughtful recommendations of our ITAC committee will help move us forward.

There is much change ahead. Change can be scary. But it can also be delightful and fun and engaging and chock full of wonder. I’m hopeful that this is a new starting point for my work for the next five years. I’m nervous about the ambitiousness of the plan, but am excited to be working here and trying to create the next generation of learning environments in my school district.

We’ve come a long way as a learning organization in the six years since I left my classroom to work on infrastructure and learning environments. Another shift ahead for me is that, come July 1st, I’ll no longer be working in our district’s technology department. The district has seen fit to transfer my team of instructional technology coordinators, now growing from three people to six, to work under our soon to be Assistant Superintendent of Assessment/Curriculum. This is another change that I’m both nervous and excited about, as I see the potential in this new structure, but am concerned about the possibility that we will lose some of our momentum in making the shifts from a technology perspective. I will miss working with my colleagues and friends in our technology department, but will still be operating out of their facility, so hope that those relationships will continue to stay strong as we move to our new organizational home.

Fingers crossed. Deep breath. Let’s do this thing.

  1. And our target audience for 1:1 begins in middle school. While many in our group felt that we should consider 1:1 at an earlier age, it wasn’t feasible. Yet. But there’s room for improvement there, perhaps. []

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