More investment in technology needed at Lakota

Independent consultant says Lakota needs capital improvement levy, instructional support.

The Lakota school board recently heard a proposal for a three-year instructional technology strategic plan for the district.

At a cost of $19,800 to the district, Sun Associates — a Massachusetts-based company working with school districts to understand technology’s role in improving teaching and learning — has been working since last fall to conduct an independent evaluation of the district’s technology and infrastructure.

Jeff Sun, director of Sun Associates, presented his findings to the school board Feb. 11 and outlined his 123-page strategic plan.

“What I love about this report is that it hits it head-on that our infrastructure is incapable; we couldn’t call it modern,” said Superintendent Karen Mantia. “I apologize for that because we should be a modern educational system, educating students for their world. Yet we are seven or eight years behind the times, and what’s sad about it is we have no funds.”

Todd Wesley, Lakota’s executive director of technology, said the last substantial rollout of new instructional technology — including computers — began in 2005 and ended in 2008, resulting in current district computers ranging in age from five to eight years.

“There needs to be upgrades to the student and teacher workstations,” Sun said. “These machines are just ancient right now. Lakota hasn’t bought any computers of note in six years and that’s a gigantic problem.

Included in Sun’s strategic plan are proposals for: a district-wide Instructional Technology Integration Manager; building-based instructional technology specialists; and a serious discussion of how the district will allocate funds, and a recommended partnership with the community through a permanent improvement levy.

“These new district staff positions, which the plan calls for hiring in 2013, are critical for achieving any of the instructional outcomes of our strategic technology plan,” Sun said.

Current uses of technology within classrooms of Lakota’s 22 school buildings include students and teachers typing papers; creating PowerPoint presentations; accessing information on the World Wide Web; and online softwares such as ALEKS, a Web-based math learning system, and Edmodo, an educationally-focused social media where teachers establish online space for a class, according to Sun’s technology audit.

Sun Associates’ evaluation of Lakota’s current technology infrastructure included focus groups, surveys of parents, teachers and principals, classroom observations and other performance indicators using industry trends and national standards.

The main areas of focus in the strategic plan outlined by Sun are student skills and outcomes and teacher skills. Sun said students should be proficient in the “4 C’s” — critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

“You can’t tell somebody to think critically,” Sun said. “That’s something people have to learn through some sort of hands-on, minds-on type of activity.”

The way to achieve that, Sun said, is through student-centered, project-based learning that emphasizes student ownership over learning.

“It’s not just how to use a word processor,” Sun said. “Critical thinking and creativity are developed through hands-on learning activities,” not through traditional, teacher-directed pedagogies.

Sun said the Lakota school district has to increase its instruction support to teachers in order to effectively integrate technology into student learning. This would be done through hiring build-based technology specialists and an overall instructional technology integration manager.

“Instructional support doesn’t exist at Lakota; the age of the infrastructure hinders effective technology integration,” Sun said.

Mantia said the school board will be reviewing the comprehensive report, for possible adoption at a later date.

“The one thing that strikes me, and every conference that I go to talks about the rapid speed at which technology is changing,” Mantia said. “It all relates to the infrastructure that can accommodate the rapid change.”

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