Upgrades Put Technology in the Hands of Students

When it comes to technology in school districts across the country, not all things are equal. This lack of equality is frustrating to administrators and teachers who embrace the use of technology in the classroom — all they can do is wait for upgrades and make the most with what they have. Fortunately, it’s worth the wait. And the trend is that districts are continuing to make upgrades to provide access to new teaching tools, which benefit both teachers and students.

Seaford Union Free School District

For example, New York’s Seaford Union Free School District recently deployed Enterasys solutions to upgrade its network and provide classroom access to new teaching tools, including streaming video for multimedia presentations, a middle school news program, video production classes and a new network-based testing and grading program.

The network serves the entire district, which includes two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Now, the IT department easily and centrally manages the network with automated policy management. “With the ability to control the network down to an individual level,” says Fred Kaden, the district’s director of Technology, “we’re able to prevent malicious activity and avoid network downtime.”

Seaford administrators plan to leverage the network for two new projects. One is currently installing IP cameras throughout the district for security purposes. Because the network allows all equipment to reside on a separate VLAN, the necessary security applications will not impact the instructional portion of the network, and will enable the IT department to easily manage the video with automated networking capabilities. The other project district is deploying centrally managed wireless access throughout the schools. 

Jeffco Public Schools
Similarly, Colorado’s Jeffco Public Schools — the largest school district in Colorado, with more than 84,000 students — recently installed a dedicated 100-Megabit-per-second network. Administrators, faculty and students have access to Qwest’s Metro Optical Ethernet (QMOE) high-speed Ethernet data transport service, which delivers bandwidth-rich applications like streaming video across multiple classrooms. QMOE serves more than 150 schools and administrative offices. “We’ve been making updates since 2006,” says Brett Miller, Jeffco’s chief technology officer. “We were pushed forward by the secondary schools, which wanted access, for instructional purposes, to the numerous services and applications available through the Internet.”

The network enhances security between locations and handles sensitive student data in a way that avoids having Internet traffic traverse the public, unsecure network. The fiber-based technology is designed to meet the district’s significant and growing data, video and voice transmission needs as well as load share among mission-critical systems. Finally, QMOE provides Jeffco administrators with scalable bandwidth, which is a critical part of the district’s business continuity plans.

Technology for Education
The network upgrades do advance what teachers can accomplish with their students. For example, at Seaford, each classroom in the district can use the network to stream video across the Web. Plus, the upgrade has also allowed the district to offer new classes, including higher-level engineering and digital photography, which use the infrastructure for instruction. Also, the district has been able to eliminate its old Scantron testing and grading sheets in favor of a network-based testing program. 

Similarly, the Jeffco network upgrade has allowed the district to implement a variety of critical e-learning initiatives, including online courses, virtual schools, online testing/assessment programs and Internet-based professional development for staff. “A lot of the teachers who rely on technology daily,” Miller observes, “are those within their first few years of teaching. They are used to having it, and they expect it. We get comments and concerns from them when systems are unavailable.”

Technology in the Students’ Hands
And, what is really amazing about network upgrades is how it allows both young and seasoned teachers to not only use technology to their own advantage, but also put it in the students’ hands. It serves to increase options in learning — a student can create a report via either a YouTube or PowerPoint presentation, for example. It even serves to increase options in education delivery — allowing classes to collaborate on projects across states or countries via video streaming, or allowing districts to offer virtual classes for students who aren’t able to attend traditional school.

“I am teaching the Millennial generation,” says Jeffco kindergarten teacher Robin Cranson. “To prepare them for anything coming up, they have to be in tune with technology. Fortunately, it’s pretty natural for them, and they take to it very easily.”

Cranson has her students using technology in a variety of ways. For example, she uses an online reading intervention program. And, around December, she introduces them to typing words and publishing stories. “It’s an incredible motivator,” she notes. She presents lessons on an interactive whiteboard, and allows students to operate it. “My goal and my philosophy,” she notes, “is to use technology for every subject every day. I immerse them in a topic and then enhance the lesson through technology.”

Another Jeffco teacher, Kristin K. Kipp, teaches junior and senior English via Jeffco’s 21st Century Virtual Academy. “Because it is online technology,” she says, “technology is just the way we do things. It’s the tool for getting everything done.” Now in its second year, the school uses a Blackboard platform for accessing student work. Kipp has her students use a variety of Microsoft software, such as Word and PowerPoint, but she also has them use Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs and wikis.

Kipp finds that her students love using technology. Toward the end of a course, she’ll offer an array of tools for completing a project. “I tell them to choose the one that works best for their project,” she says. “And that’s the kind of thinking they’re going to need in the real world — to analyze a task and determine the best tool for accomplishing it.

“I think what’s so valuable about virtual education,” Kipp continues, “is it allows us to customize for varying needs. It isn’t perfect for every student, but some wouldn’t graduate without it. We have to meet their needs wherever they are. And that’s why I’m so passionate about it.”

Cranson looks at technology from a more philosophical perspective. “I collaborate with other teachers,” she says. “We had a fifth grader who taught himself something online about the guitar, then created and posted a YouTube video of it. Clearly, the students are using technology at home. I want to capture the best of their learning in the classroom and not have it be captured when they’re at home.”

Passion and philosophy. To those ends, districts will keep improving their networks as finances allow.