By Ryan Visser
A feeling of anticipation was in the air on the morning of April 14, 2010 in Northern Virginia as participants at the HP/Intel Digital Learning Environments conference ate their breakfast and sipped their coffee. They listened to how HP and Intel have invested millions of dollars into education all over the world, as have their partnered-sponsors including Adobe, Microsoft and Vernier. Participants were just a keynote address away from seeing how these investments could affect them, their schools and, most importantly, their students.
The keynote was given by Dr. Elizabeth Hoover, the Executive Director of Technology Services for the Alexandria Schools System. Ms. Hoover has had classroom (K12 and higher ed) and technology-administration experience, a desirable combination! She focused her presentation, entitled Journey to 1:1, on the story of how the Alexandria Cite Public Schools developed and implemented a 1 computer to 1 student initiative. The initiative had its challenges but has since grown into a successful program, which can serve as a model for others.
There are 12,000 students in the high-needs Alexandria school system. Due to the large number of international families in the D.C. area, there is a large percentage of English Language Learners (22%). Many students (54%) are on a free or reduced lunch program and they have their fair share (15%) of special needs students. Despite these challenges, they, over a 7-year period, have had experienced a lot of success. The schools have secured a filtered student network, new infrastructure, online testing, student help desks at EVERY school…etc.
These successes, however, did not come without trials and tribulations. Of course there were financial difficulties – building a new school that was “smart” was costly. Financial burdens were to be expected, but other issues were overlooked in the beginning. Early on in the initiative, in 2003, students frequently brought their laptops to lunch in order to download music (Napster, anyone?). Students would use laptops in class, but rather than taking notes or staying on task, they would covertly be playing games. Students often forget their laptops, and of course, battery life was an issue. A lack of projectors was a sore spot for teachers, as was the lack of in-class, laptop management. Moreover, community neighbors would “borrow” the unsecured wireless network, thereby significantly diminishing the available bandwidth.
Changes were needed, and eventually made, but simply instituting new rules would not be the answer. A change in culture would be critical for success. Otherwise, existing problems would continue and, eventually, the novelty of having the technology would wear off.
To ensure the laptops and other hardware was not simply acting as a dust collector, instructional technologists were brought in to help the teachers use the technology in effective ways. Later, they developed a high school technology integration project, and subsequent to that, they bolstered their strategic plan for ACPS. In my opinion, this is a point that should be stressed. They did not rest on their piles of technology laurels; instead, they strived to continue to look forward, develop and implement new ideas via input from teacher-based and student-based focus groups. Perhaps most importantly was the decision to provide ample opportunities for professional development.
The professional development for teachers sounded like it ought to – it was job-embedded, needs-driven, differentiated, was comprised of year-long-strands, it was instructionally focused, and was rooted in literacy and technology. Professional development, in their eyes, was critical; if the teachers were unable to model the technology, student impact would fall short.
One of the most exciting things, in my opinion, is that, due to a continuous lack of communication between the Information Technology and Instructional Technology divisions, ACPS decided to merge the two. Are you envious yet? This merging has resulted in a much smoother operation and teachers appreciate it, as you can most certainly imagine.
Success stories that have arisen from the program are plentiful: 84% pass rate on the state reading test; 77% for Algebra 1 and 2, & Geometry tests; and 84% of ACPS’ 2009 graduates went to college. Their success has been somewhat attributed to the technology, but it’s truly the planning and dedication of the teachers and administration. They kept their collective eye on the prize; they fought through the mishaps and hardships, resisted contentment, continuously sought improvement, and provided opportunities for teachers and students to be successful!
Adobe Training Sessions
It’s difficult to label the 4 50-minute sessions I gave as “training” considering I presented both Photoshop Elements AND Premiere Elements in that short time period. I find that I can barely teach Photoshop Elements, alone, in a 3-hour session!
Therefore, given the time constraints, I was only able to give an overview of each program, showing the some 120 participants several low-threshold, high-impact ways in which each program could be used in the classroom. The majority of participants, comprised mainly of teachers and technology specialists, were excited to see how easily effective products could be created.
A few noteworthy things I noticed during my sessions were:
- The participants were happy to receive the Digital School Collection trials
- The participants’ interest in the various cloud computing tools that Adobe offers, especially Photoshop.com. Lots of note-taking during this part in the session.
- The genuine excitement about the Guided Edit component within PS Elements.
- Many of the participants had used either Movie Maker or iMovie and they all nodded in agreement when I said “if you know either of those programs, you can surely transfer your knowledge if you move to Premiere Elements and, what’s more, gain much more power in doing so.”
All in all, a great event! I look forward to my next DLE event in Minneapolis!