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Feature for District CIO

Falcon Virtual Academy gives teachers 1,000 Macbooks.

Do school district leaders receive even close to a full return on investment for 21st-century technologies like online learning, videoconferencing and interactive whiteboards? Technology vendors and their most engaged, enthusiastic customers say that many educators leave significant potential untapped because they are unable to see how technology could be more transformative or are unwilling to make the bold moves necessary to align curriculum with technology rather than the other way around.

1. Seek out ideas. Those who have already implemented virtual schooling can offer plenty of suggestions on how to get an online learning program off the ground and keep it flying.

2. Invest in design. Spend time and resources up front on instructional and Web design to make sure that online courses deliver their content effectively.

3. Get competent teachers. Find teachers who are adept in areas such as promoting collaborative learning, pacing long-range student projects, and working individually with students.

Virtual school programs—especially online high school courses—are gaining traction in school districts around the country. According to a report issued in November 2011 by the National Center for Education Statistics, 55 percent of the more than 2,000 school districts surveyed had students in distance education programs during the 2009-2010 school year.

Sixth-graders from the Wayland-Cohocton Middle School in New York train on Toshiba tablets, which the school won in a 2010 Win a Wireless Lab Sweepstakes.

Tablets have come a long way since Apple launched its pioneering Newton MessagePad in 1993, the first Internet-connected flat-screen device pairing a stylus with handwriting-recognition software. Since then, computer hardware companies have been refining and experimenting with the concept of Internet-connected tablet computing devices. The personal digital assistant (PDA), convertible laptop/tablets, dual-screen booklet tablets, e-book readers and other designs have been among the many iterations of tablet computers, sometimes known as slates or media tablets.

Chris Comstock, Gooding High School principal, sitting in background, teacher Stefanie Shaw, standing, and Heather Williams, Gooding School District superintendent, discuss at-risk high school students’ intervention plans in the Milepost SIS program.

Like seemingly everyone else connected to K12 education, vendors that offer student information systems are being called upon to do more with less.

Until recently, student electronic devices, from cell phones to iPods to laptop computers, were the forbidden fruit in schools. But with technology budgets languishing and such devices becoming more powerful, affordable and omnipresent in students’ lives, district technology leaders are now eyeing a welcome educational harvest through bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs.

The Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District dream team solves problems. Clockwise from top left: Robert Lane, Robert Rhyne, Frank Mukina, Scott Smith, Jeff Martin, Kim Cline and Michael Hiskey.

At almost every turn over the past decade—from innovative instructional technologies to advanced database management—administrators and teachers have discovered a brave new world in education. But a host of experts in educational technology say that for all the progress in districts so far, that world is becoming markedly braver and newer—and in a hurry.

Blackboard Mobile

Teachers, students and parents can get instant access to courses, content and announcements via their mobile devices using Blackboard Mobile platform. Students and teachers can access documents in multiple formats, post announcements, create discussion threads and comment on blogs and journals.

Desire2Learn

For Scott Newcomb, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Marys Intermediate School in St. Marys, Ohio, using smartphones in the classroom helps him teach math to his technology-savvy students in new ways. Instead of the typical textbook geometry lesson, Newcomb brings his students outdoors, where they use smartphones to snap photos of parallel lines, acute angles and other examples of geometric shapes.

The increasing incorporation of digital materials and resources into school and district portals and repositories has given rise in recent years to a new focus on the issue of identity management in K12 education.

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