Students at Pendleton School in Bradenton, Fla., no longer pay a price for following their athletic dreams. In the past, athletes would miss classes for days or weeks as they traveled around the world to compete in sports tournaments. Often, they’d come back from their travels scrambling to catch up on school work.
Now, thanks to a technology infusion, Pendleton’s high school students can communicate with teachers and continue their studies online while traveling. Armed with notebook computers, students can access their classes and homework from a dedicated Web portal, take tests online, and send e-mails and instant messages to teachers.
“Students can follow along as if they were in school and still communicate with me,” says Spanish teacher Stephanie Watson. “One student returned from a tournament in Mexico and said, ‘I can’t believe I’m caught up. I’ve never been away on a tournament and been caught up in school.’”
Pendleton is a pre-K-to-12 school designed to educate gifted student athletes, while also enabling them to devote time to sports. The privately owned school, which is a partner of IMG Academies, is located on a sprawling 180-acre campus that includes the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, as well as academies for soccer, basketball and baseball.
Pendleton administrators began the tech infusion in 2003 by supplementing the traditional curriculum with some online-only classes. That led the school to a lightbulb moment: a decision to post all coursework online, including lessons and homework assignments, from its regular classroom courses, recalls Richard Townsend, assistant headmaster. “It was a natural progression to go from online classes to incorporating the concept throughout our curriculum,” he explains.
Ten teachers and about 130 students piloted the program last year. “Students used to say, ‘I left my textbook at home’ or ‘I lost my assignments,’ or [claim] they stopped by before their trip to pick up their assignments but the teacher wasn’t there,” recalls Kevin Martin, IT manager. “With everything online, they are now more likely to do their school work because their excuses no longer work.”
This coming school year, 22 teachers (about half of the faculty) will put their coursework online. The 300 high school students, and some seventh- and eighth-graders, will have online access to classes.
Carl Lundberg, a sophomore, says the technology works. Last year, he traveled to Central America for tennis tournaments lasting several days. Having the coursework online made it easier to keep up with school work. When he had questions, he e-mailed his teachers. “I don’t have to carry all my textbooks,” says Lundberg. “I can just take my computer.”
To handle the campus’s increased network bandwidth, storage and computing needs, Pendleton has spent about $250,000 on new technology, including networking equipment, servers, notebook PCs and software for teachers, and security hardware and software. Martin also installed a campuswide wireless network, giving students and faculty ubiquitous Internet access.
Administrators made resources available to revamp the school’s technology over three years. First, Martin upgraded the Digital Subscriber Line connection to a fiber connection that offers transfer data rates of 4 megabits per second. Then, he built a new network, replacing the old router with a new Cisco Systems PIX 515 Series Security Appliance, which handles routing, firewall and virtual private network services.
To provide ample bandwidth, Martin attached six new Cisco switches and 18 wireless access points. He networked every classroom with Cat-5 cabling, and purchased a one-terabyte storage array and a tape backup system for disaster recovery.
This current school year, Pendleton increased the number of servers to four and bought a supply of notebook computers, which will be leased to students for $650 a year. Each student gets a Pendleton e-mail address and a user name and password to access the Web-based course management software system, where students can access their course materials.
TRANSITION FOR TEACHERS
Last year, Watson put the curriculum for her Spanish classes online. She says it’s a great new teaching tool and a refreshing change from using the same textbook every year.
Some teachers log on to students’ e-mails during class, while others are available for online help during the nightly study hall.
The coursework posted online is virtually the same material that teachers cover in lectures, says Robin Schoch, head of the science department. Teachers also can give multiple choice tests online, have the software grade the test within 30 seconds and place the results in an online gradebook, she says.
What Schoch likes about the online system is that “if students have to stay away longer, they can stay and keep winning,” she says. “It doesn’t matter because my instructions are online. So they can keep winning and not stress about missing school.”
Pendleton School’s IT manager Kevin Martin shares his tips on making course materials available to students online.
1. Consider implementing the technology in phases to work out kinks and make it more affordable.
2. Partner with an online curriculum provider that offers class materials for each course, while allowing teachers to personalize classes.
3. Offer teacher workshops on using course management systems and create crib sheets with easy instructions. And don’t forget to train students on new applications.
4. Security is critical, so create a virtual local area network for students. Limiting students to one portion of the network will prevent them from accessing sensitive administrative applications. Implement content filtering to block students from noneducational Web content and use virtual private network software so teachers can securely access network resources from home.
5. Reduce online cheating with software tools or Web sites, such as turnitin.com, that let teachers check students’ work for plagiarism.
NOMINATING A STAR
Pendleton School is the current winner of CDW•G’s Tinfoil Star Award, which honors educators who use technology to solve a problem or fulfill a dream. To submit a nomination, visit edtechmag.com and click on the “feedback” button to send an e-mail.
Wylie Wong is a Phoenix-based writer who specializes in technology.