Oct 31 2006

3 Superintendents Discuss the Impact of Technology on Education

School superintendents share their views on which technologies will have the most significant impact on education in the coming years.

The world is changing, and many of those changes are filtering into the nation’s classrooms. Chalkboards are being replaced by interactive electronic whiteboards, and paper is giving way to pixels. Lectures are evolving into sophisticated multimedia presentations, with video, audio and interactive capabilities. It’s certainly not your father’s classroom or even your own.

EdTech asked three leading educators to offer their ideas on how technology is impacting education, and what effect it will have in the years ahead — both in classrooms and in administrative offices. Here are the thoughts of veteran superintendents: Dennis Bruno of the Glendale School District, Flinton, Pa.; Larry Buchanan of the Del Paso Heights School District and the Grant Joint Union High School District, Sacramento, Calif.; and Deborah Sommer of the Canby School District, Canby, Ore. All of them believe that today’s technology tools will revolutionize education.


By Dennis Bruno, Ed. D.


Digital content delivery is the future of education. The Glendale School District is small and relatively poor. In 1997, we didn’t even have TVs in the classroom, and less than 15 percent of our students went on to college. Today, we have a one-to-one notebook PC program, we use iPods to distribute morning announcements and we connect via Internet2 with students from around the world. This year, 78 percent of our students will move on to a two- or four-year college.

We average $70,000 a month in competitive grant money, which has allowed us to leverage technology in remarkable ways. Students can view Mt. St. Helens or a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. This makes the lessons more relevant and real.

By clicking on specific areas of interest, teachers can instantaneously receive content for students — and even individualize that content. Students can get off the school bus, open their notebook PCs and log on. Their learning materials are waiting for them. Individual students may be viewing different videos and doing different coursework.

Digital content delivery makes the world smaller and more real. It’s possible to connect to other schools around the globe and learn about their customs, culture, geography, language and more. For example, we connect with a school located in Ecuador.

The opportunities for learning are incredibly rich. There’s an interactive multimedia aspect that isn’t possible in the traditional classroom — and there’s a chance to learn another language at the same time. It truly creates an anywhere, anytime environment.

We also use tools such as Google Earth to explore the world, and we’re experimenting with OQO computers, which are about the size of a Game Boy but run Windows XP. This makes it possible to carry, manage and use information in new and powerful ways.

Similarly, the use of iPods lets you grab video and audio files and make the classroom a more exciting place.

The challenge is to get teachers and parents to understand these tools and why they are so important. The students have already adapted to using digital content delivery, and their minds are ready for this new era of learning.


By Deborah Sommer, Ed. D.

Information technology is an important part of operating schools more effectively and making them more accessible to students, parents and the community. Web-based student management systems, wireless technology and strategic technology planning are essential.

In the Canby School District, we’re pushing for extensive use of more advanced technology. We’ve put money into a fiber network and into supplying teachers with a notebook PC so they can access Web-based systems from outside the school using a virtual private network. When new teachers come to our district, they fill out insurance forms, receive their room keys and get a notebook PC to let them know that’s how we do business here.

We have teachers with Web pages and blogs. We provide templates and training, and they maintain a blog for parents, students and the community. We’re also connecting teachers to the countywide electronic student information system, which includes data about registration, grades, referral history and even allergies.

All our personnel work is done online through electronic applications and file review. Some Canby teachers are even using podcasting to help students create new ways to learn and share information.

The challenge is that some teachers are innovators and others resist change. For those who view technology as just another task or who are afraid of what they don’t know how to use, we have introduced twice-a-week coaching and training sessions, and the district IT coordinator regularly meets with teachers. In many cases, such as blogging, the resistance turns to enthusiasm once people understand how simple the technology is and what it offers.

Creating a focused technology strategy is essential. The first step is to hire people who understand why the use of technology cannot be optional.

It’s also important to formalize policies and make technology use mandatory. We have developed board priorities that frame what teachers are asked to do — such as posting grades online and communicating by e-mail with parents.

At the end of the day, it’s all about working smarter and connecting people more effectively.


By Larry M. Buchanan, Ed.D.

Interactivity is the key to education in the 21st century. The ability to share video, audio and other multimedia files is valuable, but it goes beyond videoconferencing and streaming video.

The goal is to equip classrooms with technologies that make them completely interactive. The right combination of tools improves learning because it thoroughly engages students. As we move forward, the interactive classroom is critical for success.

At the Grant Joint Union High School District and the Del Paso Heights School District, we use an array of tools. For example, when students give a presentation, we set them up with a microphone so they can be heard throughout the classroom, and we equip the rooms with four speakers so we can saturate the sound. We can also add an LCD projector or streaming video to create a far more dynamic presentation.

In our district, a Bluetooth interactive wireless pad lets teachers and students make notations directly on the screen. Multiple groups can work on a project collaboratively, and the teacher can move about in the classroom.

A personal response system uses infrared transmitters to allow students to answer questions and record responses by clicking a button. The results appear instantly as a chart on an LCD projector. That gives teachers immediate feedback on the value of a lesson.

Other tools also play a role. Document cameras replace overhead projectors, enabling teachers and students to display documents, photos and illustrations on a screen. Videoconferencing cameras connect to other schools in various parts of the world. Multimedia presentation carts integrate computers, DVD and VCR players, and the other tools I’ve described. This is what makes an interactive experience possible.

The key to success is building a strong network and ensuring that the bandwidth exists to use all the functions. The interactive classroom will eventually allow us to teach to standards, while altering the delivery model to fit individual students’ needs.

Dennis Bruno is superintendent of the Glendale School District in Flinton, Pa., where he previously served as director of curriculum and instructional technology. He received the 2005 eSchool News Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award and the 2004 Frank Withrow Outstanding Achievement in Education Leadership Award.

Deborah Sommer is superintendent of the Canby School District in Canby, Ore. She received the 2006 eSchool News Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award for her leadership in the realm of educational technology.

Larry M. Buchanan is superintendent of the Grant Joint Union High School District and the Del Paso Heights School District in Sacramento, Calif. He was voted California’s Superintendent of the Year in 2005 by the Association of California School Administrators.