Technology tries to deliver an important lesson in Whitefish Bay
Officials hope schools stay educationally focused using iPads and other devices
Whitefish Bay — As it continues to integrate new technology into classroom instruction, the Whitefish Bay School District has kept its main focus on the overall impact to student learning and achievement.
During a recent update presented to the School Board, Technology Director Kent Stahlman provided an overview of the technology upgrades that have been implemented since the board approved the district's 2013-2016 Technology Plan for submission to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction last spring.
Those initiatives include the addition of new technology equipment and infrastructure improvements, such as the purchase of nearly 240 new wireless devices and the implementation of new wireless hardware with five different wireless zones and more than 150 access points throughout the district.
Stahlman also highlighted the launch this school year of the district's iPad initiative at the elementary level and Bring Your Own Device program at the middle and high school levels.
Twenty-four elementary teachers, including 18 at Cumberland and six at Richards, have received sets of five iPads for use in their classrooms under the tablet computer initiative, Stahlman said.
Although teachers at Richards were less eager to get on board during the pilot year of the initiative, K-8 Technology Integrator Patti Stannard said she is hopeful that the additional technology support provided through her newly defined role this year will help encourage more teachers to get involved.
Stannard's time will be split with about 1.5 days at each elementary school and two days at the middle school each week, Stahlman said. Cassie Medved will provide support to teachers at the high school, through her role as the coordinator of high school instructional technology and district library services.
Pilot classrooms in the Bring Your Own Device program, or BYOD, this year will consist of four middle school science classes, which includes all seventh- and eighth-grade students, and three high school classes — English, journalism and business marketing.
Now that teachers have the devices available to them, Stahlman said, they are still in the process of exploring more specifically how they will be used.
Board member Kristin Yunker recalled that the district needed to purchase more devices for the pilot because fewer students than anticipated signed up to bring their own. Stahlman acknowledged that while the district estimated about half the students in those classes would bring their own devices, participation ended up being closer to about one-third of students.
Yunker suggested the district consider increasing communication to parents on the BYOD program and its benefits to achieve the goal of greater student participation.
"If we have two-thirds of our parents saying, 'Well, the school district can (provide devices), I don't have to,' we need to get out a better message," Yunker said.
Remembering the lesson
As far as how the success of the BYOD and iPad initiatives would be evaluated and how a recommendation for expansion might be made, Maria Kucharski, director of teaching and learning, said she will view it with one primary question in mind: Is the pilot program having a positive impact on student learning?
"If we're not careful it becomes about the technology, instead of about the learning," Kucharski said.
Before making the decision to expand the pilots, the district would also need to take into consideration other factors beyond student learning, such as added staff development and equipment needs and costs, she added.
"I do feel that technology is only good if it creates greater student engagement and greater student learning ...and speaks to more personalized learning," President Pamela Woodard agreed.
If the district chooses to expand the BYOD initiative beyond the pilot program, Woodard suggested that more parents would likely be on board with supplying their child with a device.
As future considerations, the board agreed it would need to discuss how to ensure technology access for all families, such as through a scholarship or financial assistance program, as well as establish a more defined board vision for how it would like to see technology embedded in the future.
AT A GLANCE
The Whitefish Bay School District's mission for instructional technology is defined as follows:
"Students will be self-directed learners who can access, evaluate and apply the most effective tools and resources to communicate and compete globally. In order to meet this vision, students need meaningful daily integration of technology."
BY THE NUMBERS
Total number of devices in the district, including desktops, netbooks, laptops, Chromebooks and iPads
Number of Chromebooks and iPads recently purchased for classroom instruction during the 2013-14 school year
Teachers at Cumberland and Richards participating in the district's iPad elementary learning initiative this year
Classes at the middle and high school levels who will pilot the district's "Bring Your Own Device" program this year
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