District technology upgrades a priority to engage students

Schools will see $500K investment over 5 years
By: 
Scott De Laruelle

Technology is only a means to an end – increasing the connections between teachers and students to help facilitate better learning. With the district embarking on a five-year spending plan to upgrade technology in schools, staff and administrators believe it’s money well spent.

In the never-ending battle to keep up with the technology needs of students, the Oregon School District has taken a leap forward that district technology director Jon Tanner hopes will keep its students on the cutting edge.  

The district is spending around $500,000 over the next five years on a wide range of technology and infrastructure upgrades, including tripling the number of access points and adding more wireless capabilities this summer. Teachers and students are able to do more, and do it faster, and Tanner is enjoying keeping up with it all.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it keeps changing,” he said. “It’s fun to hear teachers say, ‘It would be really great to be able to do this,’ and then be able to find a way to do that, where technology lets that happen where it couldn’t before. That’s really fulfilling.”

Kids today see technology differently than previous generations, Tanner said, and educators need to understand that.

“They have a real emotional attachment that those of us who are older didn’t have,” he said. “What we’re trying to do as a school is say, ‘We know that’s really important to you.’ And if we want school to be relevant and if we want students to really be engaged, we need to find a way to take what they find really meaningful and apply it to their learning. “

Using new technology allows teachers to show that math and science are related with writing and communication, for instance.

“It’s all blended,” Tanner said. “Increasingly, the tools being used to do any of those are technology-based, and so providing that technology in the context of what they’re learning about is really important.”

Problem-solving

The new improvements can also solve a variety of issues that had troubled staff, such as lack of Internet connections.

“We were running into a bottleneck before,” Tanner said. “If you’ve got 75 kids in one area, coverage doesn’t cut it, because they can’t all connect. The new network upgrade really gets rid of one of the barriers to using technology tools. From the teachers’ perspective, it’s one less headache and frustration getting in the way of what they want to do.”

Teachers can use new technology to do more clerical work and data-crunching, freeing them up for more “personalized learning” with students.

“Instead of a teacher standing up there and telling the same thing to 30 different kids, they’re able to meet with the student every day or every couple of days to make sure they’re on track,” Tanner said. “We’re trying to teach kids in a way that they learn best, and meet them where they’re at and let them progress at their own pace. We’ve found it’s the personal connection between teacher and student that really builds that. The teachers are telling us that technology really became useful for that.”

Oregon High School principal Kelly Meyers said the expanded wireless capabilities at the school is “invaluable,” as data is no longer lost from moving around the building.

“I would capture observation notes in one room and move to another area of the building only to find they would be gone as I lost my connection,” she said.  “Or I had to take hand notes, then re-type onto the computer system to capture an observation as I did not have a wireless connection for my laptop or iPad. Very frustrating as it doubles the work when it all could have been completed.”

Meyers said more and more teachers are “flipping” classrooms by recording lessons for kids to listen to or watch and replay if there are areas they don’t fully understand.  She said more than 30 OHS teachers were trained in the latest technology last month, and she’s excited about their enthusiasm.

“(They) clearly recognize the state of education is changing and technology is at the root of that investment,” Meyers said. “They are ready to commit and have.”

Value investment

The technology spending was done through an interest-free financing agreement, with payments spread out over five years to reduce the burden.  The board approved the spending as part of its Facilities Master Plan, adopted in March.

Oregon School Board president Courtney Odorico said the investment in technology was important for student learning.

“(Our) existing technological infrastructure was fast becoming critically overburdened and would not support the growing use of technologies in our classrooms,” she said.

Tanner said it made more sense to do all the changes at once, rather than piecemeal.  

“You can’t put in a fireplace unless you put in a chimney,” he said. “So we’re going to put all this in, it’s going to serve us well for the next eight to 10 years. It’s expensive, and it looks like a lot of money because we’re doing it all at once, but it’s a better benefit to the students to be able to have it fully functional from day one.”

While generally reluctant to spend money from the district’s fund balance, Odorico said this one-time expenditure was worth it because it wouldn’t adversely affect the district’s financial health, while helping teachers and students.

“All of our teachers are embracing the opportunities that current technologies afford them in and out of the classroom,” she said. “Kids are becoming so adroit at making video and power point presentations and managing their own learning on computers and tablet devices that it is tough to keep up with them. It really is transforming the way kids learn and communicate and I believe the district is doing a terrific job providing teachers and students with the tools they need to be successful.”

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