The AATE February meeting began with a panel of heads-of-school and principals from AIS, Galloway, Westminster, Howard, Mt. Vernon, and Marist. A number of questions were presented to the panel for discussion. Examples include describing the biggest coming challenges in education and the role of social media in education. A particularly lively discussion developed around the question of whether and how schools measure teacher competencies for technology. The general theme seemed to be that all the schools were continually working on this issue. Direct, standards-based assessment seems to have been abandoned in favor of direct assistance to teachers on an as-needed basis. One school has recently implemented a faculty focus group to study the issue. Another depended largely on peer pressure.
Another question which elicited lengthy responses was what things the leaders would like to see their tech departments do better. All the leaders expressed their appreciation for their tech departments (unsurprisingly, in a room full of tech people). More than one emphasized the importance of developing strong relationships between the technology department and the faculty. Marist has recently gone so far as to retrain two teachers as full-time technical support, to make sure that the tech department has a strong understanding of faculty needs. As Marist’s head stated: “some us have been through times when tech folks were more Merlinesque.”
Following the panel, the meeting broke into smaller groups. I chose to hear about Marist’s recent technology changes. Marist has recently reorganized its entire technology structure to support a new 1-1 program. On the technical side, there is a new emphasis on replacing on-site with cloud services. Most student and teacher storage is now on a combination of Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive. The combination is necessary to support the strong use of both Microsoft OneNote and Google Docs. Productivity software has mostly transitioned from Microsoft Office to Google Docs. Email is handled by Office 365. Community-based sharing is largely handled by Google Sites (the Microsoft solution, SharePoint, was apparently a disaster from the end-user standpoint). Marist also has massive network-based storage on-site, but this is mostly for large files (e.g. video) and legacy storage. This is not even backed up.
The laptop program itself is based on a common platform of Windows 8 laptop/tablets. A single logon to both Microsoft- and Google-based services is made possible through Active Directory. A loaner pool of about 80 machines supports a population of around 1000 machines. Because of the extensive use of cloud storage, minimal interruption is caused by switching to a loaner machine. Also, since all machines have solid-state drives, the most common machine service is cracked screens. A dedicated technology department of 8 supports all machines and educational functions.
Other changes in conjunction with technology reorganization include refitting the technology space to replace individual offices with cubicles, to enable the building of a classroom-sized training area. Also, Smart Boards are being phased out in favor of wifi-enabled projectors (Epson 1410wi) which can utilize the Smart software. This enables teachers to project directly from their laptops or ipads as they move through the room. Marist has also implemented separate secured wifi networks to prevent access for non-approved student devices and to control access to network-enabled projectors.
I found many aspects of the meeting interesting and useful. First, it was very refreshing to hear a very progressive vision of educational technology from the panel of leaders. These were administrators who clearly understood the power and limitations of technology in education, and who were willing to support new paradigms in the classroom. It was very instructive to see how Marist had changed their technology infrastructure to accommodate a more modern approach to education as well. Marist embraced a number of changes all at once that I believe will soon be the trend everywhere: 1-1 computing, reliance on the cloud for most services, increased integration of instructors and tech departments, and the beginnings of blended learning (particularly useful during the recent snow storms!). And of course, the chance to network and learn what technologies are working in other schools is always invaluable!