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Changing Lives With Assistive Technologies

Trad Robinson, chief information officer of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, found the transition from a traditional public school to a specialized school as a great opportunity to change lives.
Trad Robinson
Director of Technology Trad Robinson; chief information officer of the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Trad Robinson, age 36, began his career in 1997 as the director of technology for the Union County (S.C.) School District after obtaining a computer science degree from Limestone College. In 2007, he became director of technology for Cherokee County (S.C.) Schools. He recently was named the chief information officer at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind.

Q: Can you share some of your career accomplishments so far?

Robinson: I was offered the director of technology position at Union County School District in 1997, at a time when there wasn’t much IT in education. I was able to have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in the formation of the IT infrastructure and benefited from the rise of eRate funding on several large projects. We were able to move from dial-up access to networked sites interconnected by high-speed data lines.

I made the transition to director of technology for Cherokee County Schools in 2007. I have always considered IT to be a service to curriculum. Technology must make the life of the teacher easier and allow for more interaction with students.

As with the Union County School District before, we focused the IT department on the infusion of technology into instruction. We grew the department in CCSD to include technology integrators who worked daily with teachers on how to include IT in their lesson plans.

We made the decision to become a Promethean district and rolled out interactive whiteboards to all core curriculum classes. The equipment installation was quickly followed by training on the new hardware. At the same time, we developed a process that would take our curriculum guides and create interactive Promethean flipcharts that could be shared throughout the district. We focused as much as possible on the sharing of digital resources. If teachers are forced to recreate content on the same subject matter, it takes them away from their main goal of educating the child.

What do you think is key for CIOs to focus on at this time?

Robinson: Think of all the data that is tracked on each student from the first day they enter the school. We must use this information to best serve the student. Providing data in a format that is relevant to teachers and administration is critical.

I have had the opportunity to develop in-house solutions that allow for the integration of data from multiple sources into a usable format. We combined grading and attendance data from our student information system with both test and discipline data to create usable dashboards that allowed easy access for teachers and administrators.

We created an environment that allowed the administration to react before a situation got out of hand.

What brought you to the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind and how has the experience been different from a traditional school?

Robinson: My transition was a great opportunity to utilize technology to change lives. We are trying to prepare students today for a world that none of us can even imagine. I’ve found that all students have a desire to learn and to be part of the learning experience. My current position brings a new set of accessibility issues that I haven’t experienced in the past, but the goal of technology is the same.

We are working on major initiatives to increase equal access to information. The layout of our campus is very similar to that of a small college, and we must ensure that students and staff receive notifications and warnings equally. The information can be as simple as a class change or as critical as an intruder alert. I envision a solution that incorporates digital signage through LCD HDTVs in the classroom and a combination of LED signs with strobe lights and audible alerts throughout the hallways and common areas. We will have the ability to take over the HDTVs in the classroom and computers throughout the agency to push information to the user.

I also plan to begin a one-to-one program in our organization. I’m currently evaluating one-to-one technologies that will meet the specific needs of our population. Accessibility options such as screen reading technology are critical in our environment. Both Google and Apple have made great strides in their implementation of accessibility options. I hope to build relationships during this process as our organization could provide valuable feedback and resources as accessibility options grow and change with mobile environments. —Judy Faust Hartnett