Jul 11 2010

Let Innovation Be Your Guide

Many school districts are working on making the most out of finite tech resources.


Doing more with less has been a major focus of schools and districts recently – and for good reason. But schools need to maintain the balancing act of running as efficiently as possible with limited resources while ensuring students receive the best possible educational experiences and opportunities. Not surprisingly, some schools have discovered they can achieve both goals, with great results.

One example is Lorain City Schools. In 2008, the Ohio district needed to replace its aging textbooks but faced budget constraints, so the IT staff was tasked with looking for creative alternatives. After much research and negotiation, they found their solution.

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, Deputy Super­intendent for Teaching and Learning Maria Sanchez, CIO Gary Brantley and the IT staff realized that to avoid incurring steep costs by purchasing new textbooks, they needed to turn to a digital alternative. The school district, which was in the process of implementing a one-to-one computing program, decided it made sense to provide e-books for core classes on each student's computer. That way, students would benefit from a more interactive, digital learning experience that uses information more current than what's available in traditional textbooks.

“It's important for our students to have computer ­access, and it was cost-effective,” Atkinson says. “Because we were able to negotiate good prices for the e-books, we could provide students with netbooks. And with the books loaded onto their computers, we no longer have to worry about buying replacement textbooks.”

Students adapted easily to the computers and e-books, says Atkinson, who has seen the benefits as both an administrator and a mother. Her youngest son currently attends high school in the district. “We must ensure that students are provided with the best resources. It's imperative if they're going to compete in this global economy.”

At Rancho Christian in California, school admin­is­trators were looking for a way to provide students with a curriculum that emphasized literature, but they didn't want to rely on traditional textbooks. Around that time, they learned about Sony e-book readers and realized the devices were the perfect solution for the school.

“The Sony Reader allows us to provide a huge variety of literature,” says Michael Rea, superintendent and acting high school principal. “We're discovering that [students] explore the reading materials that we load onto the reader. If they find a book that's not to their taste, they move on to something else. Eventually, they find something they're captivated by.”

For more examples of innovative schools doing more with less through technology, read to Rewriting the Book.

Beyond Boundaries

Another school that's providing unique and innovative educational experiences through technology is Saint Stephen's Episcopal School in Florida. The school is crossing oceans and overcoming language barriers using distance learning, partnering with schools in Tanzania and China to teach students not only curriculum material, but also history and culture in a global society.

The response from students in all three classrooms has been positive. The classrooms connect weekly through video conferencing, which allows the students to interact and learn in ways they've never done before. “It's the way of teaching in the 21st century,” notes Head of School Janet S. Pullen.

To learn more about video conferencing collaboration programs, read It's a Small World After All.

Whether you're consolidating mountains of mate­rials onto a netbook or providing the opportunity to take students on a field trip around the world through video conferencing, let innovation be your guide for building a better 21st century classroom experience.

Ryan Petersen

<p>Matthew Gilson</p>