Lake County schools getting serious about technology
Math is not a dull affair in a classroom at Libertyville High School thanks to an interactive whiteboard. Nikki Poulos solves the problem while Tristan Stephenson films it for videocasting. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 7, 2013 5:54PM
Technology is always evolving in schools, but right now Lake County educators are approaching it with a renewed enthusiasm.
Many school officials said they agree it’s important to prepare students for a complex and wired world, where technology plays a role no matter which career path they choose.
“Technology is becoming not only a nice thing to have, but a necessary thing to have,” said Chris Willeford, principal of West Oak Middle School in Diamond Lake School District 76.
To make it all happen, school administrators are using a strategic approach.
Beth Burke, technology coordinator for Hawthorn School District 73, said her district formed a special committee to analyze what the district is currently doing and what they want to accomplish in the future.
Burke established TIES, or Technology Integration for Educational Success, because the technology department lacked clear direction. The committee, comprised of teachers, community members and administrators, first met in December 2012. It is now a permanent group that will continue to monitor what’s happening with technology inside the district and out.
Burke said it’s important have tech integration be a committee process, because everyone should agree on the direction it takes.
“Where do we want to go? What’s our guiding principle? Everyone had somewhat different ideas,” she said. “We don’t want to say we want this, this and this just because we’ve heard about it and other districts are doing it.”
West Oak’s Willeford agrees. Diamond Lake conducted a technology assessment and audit this past fall in order to get a clear picture of where things stand,
“It’s providing us with identified strengths and gaps so we can make informed decisions,” Willeford explained. “We have to have a good chartered plan.”
Community High School District 128 has been working on such a plan since they formed their technology committee for Vernon Hills and Libertyville High Schools more than a year ago. Focusing on mobile learning through the use of tablets and other handheld devices, the committee provides regular updates on their progress at d128.org/mobilelearning.
Mick Torres, educational technology director, shared the reason for the mobile push: “We all want to be on the web.”
Torres said the resources available to students and teachers now have led to a revolution in the way classes are taught.
Homework is now infused with knowledge from websites, videos, PowerPoint presentations and more. Thus class time is spent not by imparting a lesson to a passive audience, but by spending quality time incorporating what has been learned at home.
Torres said this is called “flipping the classroom” and it leads to a more meaningful educational experience for all.
“Learning via the web is the future,” Torres said. “I think there will be a time one day when we’re not buying textbooks anymore.”
So what kind of technology are students actually using in their classes?
In terms of hardware, officials said there’s a lot of experimentation with iPads and tablets. They’ve proved especially useful with special education students in multiple districts, Torres said, because they are natural assistive devices.
Interactive whiteboards are also the norm across the board. These are boards that can display a rich variety of information, moving images and changing graphics. More importantly, students and teachers can actively interact with the display.
“It makes learning much more engaging,” Willeford said.
There is also growing use of Chomebooks which are fast, lightweight laptops made by Google whose purpose is to use the web most quickly and efficiently.
Software trends include a widespread adoption of Google Apps, free web tools which allow for collaborative learning, officials said. They added that these tools simplify working with classmates, as well as getting assignments when you’ve missed class and handing in your homework. Plus, that homework becomes paperless and more eco-friendly.
Despite the growing integration of technology, educators say some fundamentals of learning and running schools don’t change. Torres stressed that human interaction is still of paramount importance.
“The connections between students and teachers will never be digitized,” he said.
Willeford, meanwhile, discussed another reason for a measured approach:
“You have to be fiscally responsible. You can’t put something in the classroom and then not use it.”