West Hartford already has many of the components in place to align the district’s technology goals with the District Development and Performance Plan for Continuous Improvement, however, there are key elements that need to be implemented to fully ready the schools – and the West Hartford community – for 21st Century learning, according to the "Technology Blueprint" presented Tuesday night to the Board of Education.
Tom Moore, who as assistant superintendent for administration for the was tasked with developing the district’s new technology blueprint, identified the following key questions to guide the technology development plan:
- How do we effectively integrate technology for 21st Century learning?
- What do students need to know and be able to do to effectively use technology?
- What do teachers need to know and be able to do to guide and instruct students while effectively integrating technology?
- What infrastructure, hardware, and software do we need to actualize our vision for students?
The Center for Educational Leadership and Technology – CELT – was chosen by the district's technology committee from among the five organizations approached to work with the WHPS on the technology blueprint.
The process of developing the blueprint was thorough, as CELT collected data from meetings with stakeholders, parents, principals, teachers and IT staff. Focus groups, site visits, key stakeholder interviews, document review, and planning/review sessions were conducted, according to Dr. John Phillipo from CELT.
Dr. Tracey Wilson, a history teacher at Conard, gave her input on the need for an updated approach to technology during the public communications opportunity at the beginning of the meeting.
“When technology at school is blocked, kids are reaching in their back pocket to go around it,” Wilson said. As a teacher and a professional, Wilson is believes that she should be able to control what she can see on her computer. She gave several examples of sites which had been blocked by the district, including West Hartford Patch, the Hartford Advocate, and anything with the word "anarchy" in it.
The process for developing a District Technology Plan was first put into place during the 2009-2010 school year, to guide the district into the next decade.
The new state standardized tests, which will be implemented in the next two to three years (replacing the CMT and CAPT) will all be computer-driven, Moore said. Although it will be necessary by that time to have computers available for all students, it was not the only reason that the district began the process.
"We need to determine where we need to go to train students for where they're going," Moore said.
In his presentation to the Board, Phillipo of CELT outlined several "Notable Commendations" for technology and systems that already exist in West Hartford. He said, "The Library media department provides an exemplary model for integrating information literacy skills into the curriculum through co-teaching and provides visionary leadership for instructional technology. He also commended the IT professional development and curriculum coordinator, who works with teachers across the school district supporting projects that integrate technology into the curriculum.
District development and performance plans, investment in technology, and coordination between facets of the Town and schools were also commended.
However, Phillipo also noted several areas in need of improvement:
- Access, use and support of technology is not equitable. Although the student to computer ratio in West Hartford is 2:1, this includes a significant amount of out-of-date technology with incompatibility concerns.
- All teachers and students have Internet access, but web filtering is too restrictive and results in limited use.
- IT job descriptions need to be revised and updated.
- Desktop management processes are outdated.
- Attempts to provided limited wireless access to the network have been made, but has not been a priority.
“Technology will not transform schools. Rather schools must be comprehensively and systematically transformed in order to improve student learning and make effective use of technology,” Phillipo said.
The major recommendations highlighted by Phillipo in his presentation include:
- Developing and adopting a strategy for implementing a curriculum development and learning management system.
- Developing a formal scope and sequence for student technology competencies as well as 21st Century information literacy skills, and embedding them into the WHPS core curriculum.
- Defining the policies and processes for a “bring your own technology” (BYOT) program, enabling teachers and students to use their own devices to access network resources via a secure portal.
- Restructuring the IT department.
- Developing and deploying an enterprise-wide wireless network system. The Town of West Hartford has access to a community-wide dark fiber infrastructure (the former Gemini Networks system), and CELT recommends that it is in the school district’s best interest to integrate that into their technology plans.
“Are you in the education business or are you in the learning business? Don’t just build a network for the schools, think out of the box," Phillipo said.
One major concern raised by Board members, as well as by CELT, was the potential "digital divide" between those who have the most up-to-date technology available and those who do not.
Phillipo said that West Hartford "absolutely must address the digital divide," but cautioned that it is not just a matter of access to technology; it is also the ability to use and to have support for that technology.
Board member Terry Schmitt asked if having town-wide WiFi would be feasible and more effective than installing WiFi on a school-by-school, building-by-building basis. Phillipo said it would be ideal, citing the Philadelphia as an example of a city with nearly universal WiFi, but said it would take leadership to implement. The existing dark fiber network is a great asset to have, he said, and recommended that West Hartford look into partnering with other organizations for use of that network.
The outcome of the blueprint will be a plan to be implemented over several years, and the plan's details have been communicated in a lengthy report which will be made available on the WHPS website. "The critical success factors are funding, leadership, partnership, and planning," Phillipo said.
Board of Education members agreed that they are ready to move on to the next step.
Moore admitted that like anything else, there will be financial implications. However, it is important to continue to use technology to educate more effectively. “Do we have the tools right now for what our students need for the future?” Moore asked.