Schools Just Average for Computer Use

Thurston science teacher Ina Wu

Thurston  teacher Ina Wu

Laguna public schools are average when it comes to computer collaboration in the classroom, according to a survey of students and teachers by the school district’s new technology director. And Mike Morrison said it’s his job to change that.

More students need to use computers to collaborate on projects more often and to communicate with their teachers, according to a year-end report Morrison, the new tech director, presented to school board members Tuesday.

Survey numbers showed that 68 percent of the students never collaborate online with each other on projects. “There’s room for improvement,” he said, noting that student-project collaboration on computers is one of the new state academic requirements known as the Common Core.

And 93 percent of students never collaborate with students from other schools, another requirement of the state standards.

“If we really are trying to go after those standards, that 93 percent should be over here,” said Morrison, pointing to the top of the curve, not the bottom. As far as students communicating online with teachers about class subjects, 80 percent of the students marked “never.”

Laguna Beach is “very close” to 10,000 other public school districts in the country when it comes to using computers to collaborate, and that’s not good enough, said the new technology chief who’s been on the job for three months. “So it actually means we are about average, which is not where we want to be in Laguna Beach. That’s why you hired me, right? We don’t want to be average. We want to be even better. And we will. This was kind of a wake-up call.”

Morrison and his team surveyed 1,433 fourth- through 12th-grade students and 148 teachers in the district.

The first thing needed to accomplish more online collaboration, he said, is BYOD, bring your own device; every student brings a laptop to class. Less than half the students surveyed now have one-on-one or two-on-one access to a computer in the classroom. At home, 98 percent of the students have Internet access, according to the survey.

To accommodate students who don’t have a device to bring to school, one would be provided, he suggested: “We have to have it in the library and they can go check it out. Just like a book, they can check it out, no questions asked.”

Hiring a new tech employee will allow teachers to obtain immediate technical assistance, the second factor Morrison recommended to improve classroom collaboration. Teachers would dial “HELP” on their cellphones and, once a new data base administrator is hired, he said with a hopeful smile, a real person would answer their questions.

“This is a big deal,” Morrison stated, “because teachers have to feel supported to go to the next level, and studies bear that out. Teachers are more likely to integrate technology if they feel supported.”

The district’s mainframe utility rooms and service by its internet provider have improved, said Morrison, who negotiated increasing the district’s bandwidth from 100 megabytes to 1 gigabyte at less cost.

He also projected before and after pictures on the boardroom wall monitor of the high school’s computer room near the library. On his first day, Morrison described checking out the utility room of computer servers and switches, a chaotic mass of heavy electrical cords draping a shelving unit. Next flashed a picture of Capt. Kirk from television’s “Star Trek,” sweating and bugged-eyed. “I looked like this,” he said. Now, the room is now neatly arranged and more efficiently wired.

Another recent accomplishment was equipping each classroom with wireless access points; only 70 percent had access three months ago. “As of this week,” he reported, “we have 99.9 percent coverage, one access point per room. So we’re ready.”

To start his computerized presentation, Morrison showed a recent PBS video about a class environmental science project at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, that integrated technology and project-based learning. Students were asked to create a device that captured solar or wind power to help solve power shortages in underdeveloped areas worldwide. The project was called Re-Volt and it featured students’ solutions.

“What I think is powerful about that video is that it tells the story of the student,” he said.

“The first question you ask yourself as an I.T. director is, ‘Do we have the infrastructure to support that kind of project?’ The answer is ‘No.’ We didn’t when I got here, but we will and we’re working on it.”

Morrison also suggested collaboration-friendly furniture, possibly with wheels, that can be easily reconfigured from group discussions to test-taking. Board chair Jan Vickers wondered if desks and chairs with wheels might be too tempting in a town where wheels and children connote free-time fun.

Morrison said the future lies not in the vision itself but in the student who is engaged creatively and constructively in developing a vision of their own. “If I focus on that, I think we’ll go in the right direction,” he said.

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