Reports from the Field: Building a technology strategy

Reports from the Field is an ongoing series where thought leaders in education describe what the education landscape reality actually looks like from the trenches.

By Dr. Stacy Scott, Framingham Public Schools Superintendent 

The Town of Framingham developed a four-year capital improvement allocation to build up the technology infrastructure of its schools.  Four years into this capital upgrade, Framingham schools boast wireless capacity at each of its schools and increasing numbers of devices for students to use to support learning using the web and digital curriculum.  The numbers of teachers using our district wide digital learning platform increases steadily.  Teachers use it to provide access to learning 24 hours a day doing what is called flipping the classroom.  Students learn much of the direct instruction during what was their homework time and in class they focus on problem sets and collaborative work with peers.  The investment has brought a variety of benefits but there is still much work to be done.  Our challenge is that as we build infrastructure the demands on the system are outstretching current capacity.  Four years is long enough to require that upgrades occur on an aging system.  With each student and teacher carrying multiple devices, we could hardly have expected the growth in the demands on the system just a few years ago.  So, we have to continue to upgrade and improve the capacity of our system.

Framingham has about a 5-1 student to computing device ratio.  Over the past year, we have begun to pilot 1-1 initiatives in certain parts of the District including the Thayer Alternative High School and classrooms at all levels.  This has helped us to explore how 1-1 initiatives can be deployed to improve student learning especially for those students who are at greatest risk of struggling academically.  This year, the increased resources provided in the Town’s capital improvement budget are being used to add two additional computer carts to each school available to be used at the discretion of each school.  These additions may bring us to 4-1, but the slow march to increased capacity is barely dented.

Making the digital conversion is about more than just getting to 1-1.   At certain levels, there may be advantages with a 2-1 ratio rather than 1-1.  Getting devices into the hands of students as quickly as possible is not the goal.  Teachers need time to prepare for the new instructional opportunities that technology makes possible.  New infrastructure is required to keep up with the new devices.  Training must bring light to the possibilities for instructional upgrade made possible through technology.  Training and instructional support requires coaches and technicians who can support teachers and manage the device integration into the system. Otherwise, it is possible to have devices that sit on shelves with no demand or readiness for deployment.  It can lead to devices that cannot be maintained adequately if they break.

Digital conversion involves setting up an environment where instruction can take advantage of the opportunities made available by the web and digital curriculum.  Increasingly, publishers are creating digital material that is curated by the publisher and augmented by their substantial capacity to update the curriculum constantly.  In the future, digital platforms such as the one we use, itsLearning, will enable teachers and districts to curate their own curriculum material and lesson plans.  Teachers need time to explore the use of technology, develop digital materials and practice approaches to using updated curriculum.  We have sought partners who can help us manage the technical challenges of building up our digital capacity.  We have engaged with technology companies who can help us build systems for communications and network management.  We have engaged publishers who can provide curriculum and strategies for enhancing learning and training teachers.   We need all of these potential partners to make our journey to digital conversion work.

Our resources for managing these partnerships are meager at best.  At times, we are able to reapportion funds to get started.  Additionally, funds are needed for staffing to support the district needs.  Infrastructure development and management, programming and software development, technical support and instructional guidance each require staffing to accomplish the full complement of the technology vision.  Fortunately, the Town is supportive of our need to continue its investment in developing the technology infrastructure of the schools.  It’s an uphill battle but one that we cannot avoid since time marches on and change comes in spite of us.  If digital conversion means that we progress that much farther toward meeting the needs of diverse learners through increased resources then it will have been worthwhile.  If it facilitates teachers’ challenges with monitoring student assessment and enhances the ability of administrators to provide feedback for teachers to improve instruction then it will have been worthwhile.

 

Dr. Scott joined Framingham Public as the Superintendent in 2012. Prior to Framingham, he served as Superintendent in nearby Dracut, Mass., where he held the top spot for two  years. A licensed psychologist, Dr. Scott was the founder and president of the Center for Understanding Equity and principal  at ExecResults Consulting. Previously, he was a lecturer in Psychology and a consultant in Child Psychiatry at The Harvard Medical School. Dr. Scott holds a Ed.M. and an Ed.D. from Harvard’s School of Education in Counseling and Consulting Psychology.