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Articulating Tech’s Use in Learning a Key Early Step, Panelists Say

Facebook, chromebooks, hashtags, oh my!

America’s education system must prepare students for the 21st century and implement the best practices for tech-based learning. The AASA conference session Friday on “Hot Tips for the Successful Digital Superintendent” tackled this multifaceted topic.

Andre Spencer, superintendent of Harrison School District Two in Colorado Springs, Colo., moderated a conversation about transforming learning through technology. He explained to roughly 50 attendees that, though tech is a hot topic, superintendents must articulate their purpose for tech-based learning.

Spencer asked the three superintendents on the panel why technology is important in the classroom.

“Why not?” said Chris Gaines, AASA president-elect and superintendent of Mehlville School District in St. Louis. “We must keep up with change.” Refusing to implement technology in schools is refusing to partake in the ubiquitous future that surrounds us, he added.

Panelists discussed personalized learning, a good practice for tech-based learning that helps remediate or accelerate students. Gaines shared that My Path, an individualized platform, provides rigorous curriculum for high schoolers to delve deeper into topics that interest them.

Phil Hickman, superintendent of Columbus, Miss., Municipal School District, shared his community’s reactions when tech-based learning started in his district and why his good practices are now vital to his community.

“People started marching against me. I had For Sale signs in my yard, death threats,” Hickman said. He subsequently gained community support after he rolled out a one-to-one technology initiative in three years and made his district one of 30 top districts in innovation.

“Our engagement went up, our dual enrollment increased by 200 percent, our attendance went up, our graduation rate increased from 60 to 85 percent [in three years],” Hickman said. He attributed providing adjustment time and reaching out to parents as two reasons for a smooth transition to tech-based learning.

One obstacle Hickman encountered while implementing tech-based learning was students lacking access to Wi-Fi outside of school.

“We bought specialized routers and shot Wi-Fi to school parking lots and public parks,” he said. “I’m not worried when I see cars with fogged windows in the high school parking lot…. It’s just students using the Wi-Fi there to do homework.”

To monitor students’ online presence, Hickman’s district uses LearnSafe, a program that detects inappropriate behavior and documents. Administrators and teachers have conversations with students who are screened by LearnSafe.

In Hickman’s district, best practices with tech-based learning enabled personalized graduation plans for at-risk students and computer instructions for parents to search for jobs or to take online classes.

Panelist Matt Miller, superintendent of Lakota Local School District in Liberty Township, Ohio, shared how technology unified his community. “We didn’t have a district hashtag, (so) we let students choose. … #WeAreLakota!”

Miller finds that social media effectively spreads positive messages from schools to community.

(Margaret Gaw, a senior at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, is an intern with Conference Daily Online.)

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