Oct 12 2016

How One District Prepared for and Embraced Personalized Learning

Officials set up a robust infrastructure before rolling out platform that celebrates student voice and choice.

Administrators at Georgia’s Fulton County Schools have embraced personalized learning. The massive charter system that surrounds (but doesn’t include) the city of Atlanta, adopted the platform to help advance their strategic goals to increase graduation rates and students’ college and career readiness.

To implement the framework (which gives FCS students some choice in how they receive their learning and fits the unique needs of each student) across the district’s nearly 100 schools, the technology team had to put a robust infrastructure in place.

CIO Serena Sacks and her team started by upgrading the basic existing networking infrastructure. They tripled the number of access points from 3,000 to 9,000, boosted internet bandwidth tenfold and moved and upgraded the data center to increase its elasticity and capacity.

They then provided schools with access to advanced, cloud-based applications, including Office 365 and Google Apps for Education, provided each student with a terabyte of network storage and added new options for curriculum, including Safari Montage, a repository of IP-enabled documentaries and digital content. And they are currently rolling out a digital dashboard that allows administrators and teachers to view, aggregate and analyze real-time data on student test scores, discipline and absenteeism.

“That piece is coming from a data warehouse, so one of our executives calls it the ‘data wow-house’ now,” says Hoke Wilcox, director of instructional technology at FCS. “Everyone is really excited to finally have some actionable data that they can access in real time and inform what teachers are doing in the classroom.”

Schools Get a Choice on Programs

In keeping with their charter mission and the spirit of personalized learning, the district offered their schools autonomy and choice in when and how they set up their personalized learning strategies. The schools were broken down into five groups, based on a readiness rubric that evaluates how well teachers and schools already were using technology, or were prepared to use it.

Each group then goes through an 18-month planning and implementation period to learn how to personalize instruction, leverage devices and set their instructional goals. “We give the schools structure, based on what we call the Seven Principles of Personalized Learning, but they get to decide their teaching and learning strategies, whether that be station rotation, flexible pacing, blended learning, online curriculum or whatever,” Wilcox says.

Once they complete the planning, every member of the group can test out and choose from one of four preapproved devices, each with a different form factor: a tablet, a Dell Latitude notebook computer, a Dell Chromebook and a convertible Microsoft Surface tablet/notebook. “To ease support and training issues, each school has to be homogenous in terms of which device they get,” Sacks says.

All In on Personalization

All of the schools have either completed or are in the midst of their planning process right now and two groups are deep into the process of rolling out their personalized learning programs. So far, says Sacks, “I only hear good things. Going into it we had parents and teachers who were skeptical, but once they see personalized learning in action, they go out and sell everybody else on it.”

Wilcox expects buy in to increase even more as the strategy is implemented districtwide and all 96,000 students are impacted.

“We think that the kids are going to be more engaged and they’re going to learn better,” Wilcox says. “What that will allow us to really move toward is competency-based learning.”

For more on personalization, see our Fall 2016 feature, "Personalized Learning Hinges on Strong Tech Backbone."


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