Erika Kohl on Sept. 22, 2014

School Technology Plan Focused On Learning, Not Devices

The following is part of a recap from the Sept. 22, 2014 Westford School Committee meeting. For other parts of the meeting, click here.

9:13 p.m. – The meeting then addressed an update to the School Department’s technology plan.

Olsen thanked everyone that worked with School Department Technology Director Julie Elkins and announced that the Elkins had received a pathfinder award from the Massachusetts CUE (Computer Using Educators).

Clay reminded the audience that this was one of the top strategic issues the School Committee has on its plate this school year.

Elkins began her presentation with an overview as well as members of her team that have worked on the plan so far.

She then said that the plan presents a vision of how technology will be used in Westford schools, with educators ceding some control to students in the use of technology.

Students will be assessed on collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, communication and content knowledge.

Elkins said that computers could potentially be used by students in a collaborative group model.

She also stressed the importance of digitally connected classrooms.

Elkins then talked about making classes accessible for all students during the educational universal design process.

In that universal design process, QR Codes are particularly important.

An example was given where QR Codes were made for examples of preschool children singing songs.

There was then an example of project based learning ideas and then talked about blended learning.

The student representatives on the School Committee left and then Elkins talked more about how the plan will be implemented as well the use of mobile devices.

Elkins said that the plan can only succeed if everyone is on the same wavelength.

After another video, Elkins then talked about how online information will be used to help teachers share best practices collaboratively.

Erika Kohl on Sept. 22, 2014

Erika Kohl on Sept. 22, 2014

The measurement tool will be a program called Clarity by Bright.

Elkins said that any mobile learning initiative that requires a 1:1 device to student ratio will either be a “Bring Your Own Device” or a leasing program. It’s also assumed that the annual capital replacement request will included funding for classrooms where there is no 1:1 ratio initiative.

Over the next four fiscal years, there will be a fiscal impact of approximately $500,000.

Elkins said that progress has already been made in some areas, such as the library at the Blanchard School, showing examples of technological improvements.

She then went back to the vision, saying that any decisions that are made need to be focused on developing skills students need to be successful, digitally connected citizens.

The presentation concluded and Olsen said the plan was positive regarding the shift from replacement cycles for devices to looking at classroom instruction and what devices will be used to implement that instruction.

School Committee Member Erika Kohl praised the presentation, particularly insights that had been obtained from teachers as well as flexibility in the plan. However, she was concerned about the 1:1 and mobile initiatives due to concerns that the value does not justify the cost.

Kohl hoped there would be measurements back to the School Committee showing how the mobile initiatives would do things that could not be done by more mundane means.

Olsen said that he and Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery had a number of conversations with Elkins over the number of devices that expect to be used and again pointed to the plan’s emphasis on learning goals rather than focusing just on obtaining devices.

Clery then said it would be a balance to provide educators technological accessibility while also making sure the emphasis was on learning.

Elkins agreed that the devices come second, but that there were many educators who were frustrated not having access for devices needed in educational planning.

School Committee Member Angela Harkness then talked about the nearly $500,000 infrastructure investment, with Clay saying that it would come in part through the capital spending process as well as a discussion on what devices should be used with an impetus to help children whose families do not have access to devices.

Clay asked for further insight from Olsen, but Olsen echoed Clay’s comments.

School Committee Member Arthur Benoit said that not looking at planning to purchase devices is shortsighted and that a guess at some ratio will be needed, even if it isn’t a 1:1 ratio.

Elkins then introduced Mike Wells, the technology director for the town at large. Wells said that there were some problems with projections, but that the network should be built for what is expected.

However, Wells said that there was no guarantee that the plan could be “future-proofed,” but that the platform can be scaled significantly as needed.

Clay then asked School Committee members for input, School Committee Member Margaret Murray was pleased with the updates at the Blanchard School and the organic approach taken to potential growth that may be needed within the plan.

Murray then asked about the funding, asking if computers could be made within capital requests due to their lifespan.

Olsen then said that was the most viable route, with potentially going to Town Meeting for larger items. However, he recommended avoiding “spiking,” or a significant amount of purchases in one year and then no purchases for several years afterward, instead spreading out the purchases.

Harkness said she believed that the infrastructural improvements were definitely a capital cost.

Clay said he believed the School Committee was definitely in support of the work Elkins has done so far.

They made a motion and approved it.

10:10 p.m.- Expense warrants were approved. There was a motion to adjourn into Executive Session not to return, which was approved.