"Teachers have access to all sorts of visuals for the students in pretty much every area," said Melodie McGurrin, a teacher at Rowntree Public School in Brampton. "The 'Teaching with Technology' initiative brings the learning to life because kids can see what you're talking about and they can share their answers with the class. When they've written something in their books you can stick it under the document camera, put it up on the screen and show the whole class what their answer was. That helps the kids feel more part of the class."
Although the Board hasn't developed a set of metrics to confirm that students are deriving significant benefits, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the belief.
Kyra Kristensen-Irvine, known to her students as Mrs. K.I., is the principal of Rowntree Public School, which was an early implementer of the approach. "The kids love it," she said. "I was talking about it with Laura [Williams] one day when a grade five student walked by. I asked him what he thought of the LCD mounts and he said, "No insult Mrs. K.I., but when that's on I pay attention."
Rolling out the initiative
Like any good IT shop introducing a major project, the IT team at Peel District School Board started small, initially providing teachers at one school with laptops. But the feedback from those teachers indicated that they didn't need the mobility of a laptop. Instead, they preferred to have a desktop computer, using a data key for mobility. With this approach they could have an LCD projector in every classroom for about the same amount of money.
Now the Board has about 24 schools with a desktop computer and LCD projector in every classroom, along with Internet access and substantial supporting resources. More schools will be brought into the initiative next year, and several others are so keen on the approach that they're starting down this road themselves. Still, with over 230 schools in the district, progress is frustratingly slow.
"One of our challenges is how to get it out there fast enough," said Williams. "We talk about a six-year plan but there's a sense of immediacy -- that we need to do it now -- because we're convinced it really makes a difference and we've got students in our system now who don't have access to this."
Unfortunately, rolling the initiative out isn't simply a matter of buying and delivering the equipment. That can be done quickly enough. The biggest challenge is changing how teachers teach. That's what takes the time.
"You can't just drop technology off at the door. It's really a change management issue," said Williams. "With any initiative there will always be those that are really keen to figure out how to use it. But how do you move the entire system forward as a whole?"
To address this issue, the Board is using a variety of methods. The most important is direct one-on-one coaching. Coaches, who are teachers themselves, go into the schools and work with the teachers, moving them forward from whatever level they may be at. If they're not accustomed to technology, the training can be as basic as showing them how to operate the equipment, but if they're already tech savvy, the coaches will show them things like the latest Web sites.
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