The Transylvania Times -

By Frances Bradburn
Everyday Education 

The Invisible Hand Of Technology In Schools

 

Pisgah Forest Elementary students excitedly examine their new Chromebooks. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Zandecki)

By now, most of us know that the Transylvania County School System is known for its robust, efficient 1:1 teaching and learning environment. One-to-one means that every student and teacher has access to a computing device when needed for instruction. In the county's elementary schools, devices are usually housed on carts in the classroom. In middle and high school, students have their Chromebooks 24/7 throughout the school year.

It all sounds so simple. Students and teachers have computers; teaching and learning takes place. It's just like the real world, right? Technically, yes. Realistically, it's a massive undertaking.

The stats just hint at the story:

•500 Chromebooks (and cases) replaced and processed at Brevard Middle School (Transylvania has a refresh/replacement cycle of once every 4 years, alternating among the system's middle and high schools yearly).

•100 desktops replaced for 4 CTE labs at Brevard Middle and High schools and Rosman Middle and High schools.

•90 new laptops purchased and processed for Brevard Elementary School and Rosman Elementary School teachers.

•75 Chromebooks (and carts) purchased and processed for T.C. Henderson Elementary School's new science and technology focus.

•250 Chromebooks and carts purchased and processed for all fifth grade classrooms.

•38 new teachers provided devices and training on all state and county platforms and programs.

•800 plus middle and high school student Chrome-books collected at the end of school, re-flashed (Google's term for re-imaging), and redistributed last week.

•One online course designed by the district instructional technology facilitators to help teachers meet the new NCDPI NC Digital Learning Competencies requirement.

•33 administrators introduced to Google Educator Level 1 training (which they will complete by Dec. 1) by district ITFs.

•12 T.C. Henderson Elementary teachers introduced to Google Educator Level 1 training (which they will complete by next spring) with one of the district ITFs.

•300 plus Aerohive Wireless Network access points in the school system's classrooms.

•One new VOIP (Voice Over IP) telephone system installed for all schools and offices in the school system in collaboration with Comporium.

Much of the above, which is only partial list, refers to the "stuff," the Chromebooks and desktop computers, the wires and connectivity, simple access to "things." This is important but reflects only part of the story.

Educators have found that you can't just put a device in teachers' or students' hands, provide them with a stable Internet connection, and assume that the technology will be used productively for teaching and learning. Yes, both teachers and students know how to use their devices, whether computers, Smartphones, or gaming systems for their own needs and entertainment.

Using them instructionally is another matter altogether. That's where the school system's instructional technology facilitators (ITFs) and school library media coordinators (SLMCs) are essential. Teachers need their own teachers (both the ITF and the SLMCs) to help them find and learn how to use a variety of resources and tools to make good use of the Chromebooks and other technology in their classrooms. Students also require the same assistance in learning how to navigate all the digital options at their fingertips, find reliable sources of information, and use it ethically and wisely. SLMCs and ITFs constantly find and/or design instruction and resources that support teachers in their teaching and students in their learning. They are multi-faceted individuals, moving back and forth among various grade levels, skill levels, and interests to help make school an authentic learning environment.

Three hundred computers await Rosman High School students only moments before distribution.

All this is in support of the main goal of all education: real world teaching and learning to prepare children for the world they will enter. When it is done well, it is invisible. The only time most people think about these skills, services, and resources is when they either do not work or are not available. Only when the connectivity fails, 300 plus Chromebooks need to be distributed in a single day, or a teacher needs to understand how to use a program or get recertified does it become apparent that the training or services are missing.

And this invisibility is the goal of all school technology personnel, instructional and technical. Remember the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain? Everything happened in front of the screen-events unfolded, characters made decisions, life progressed But it would have been impossible without the machinations of that hidden wizard. Hats off to the wizards of the Transylvania County School System -the technicians, instructional technology facilitators, and school library media coordinators - who help make a smooth, technology-enabled start to the 2016-2017 school year.

 
 

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