Technology and the ways it can be used change rapidly, and the Bradley County Schools system is looking for ways to keep up with those changes. That was the message Scott Webb, instructional …
Technology and the ways it can be used change rapidly, and the Bradley County Schools system is looking for ways to keep up with those changes.
That was the message Scott Webb, instructional technology coordinator for Bradley County Schools, gave the Bradley County Board of Education during its work session Tuesday.
Webb recounted the district’s recent successes, such as introducing Google software which can be used on multiple device types and seeking more feedback from teachers. However, he also touched on some shortfalls.
“I’m very proud of where we are, and we’ve come a long way … However, we have many challenges we face as a district,” said Webb.
Upon stepping into his current role last year, he and the district’s computer technicians and technology coaches began to make a plan for the district.
The district has over the past year added to its infrastructure, tackling things such as improving schools’ wireless networks. However, Webb noted the district still needs to focus on things such as how many electronic devices are available to students.
Bradley County Schools aims to eventually become a “one-to-one district” with one device available for every student. Webb said reaching this goal will not only involve buying new devices but also replacing existing ones.
Board Chairman Troy Weathers asked how old the district’s current devices are. Webb said the district recently retired computers which were about 10 years old.
“We have got to have a more robust refresh plan,” said Webb. “We have to think of devices as consumables; they have a shelf life.”
He used the example of Apple iPad tablets being used in classrooms now. The district currently has 850 of them that are so old they can no longer receive software upgrades.
Webb also described efforts such as an audit of communications equipment which has resulted in a savings of about $30,000. The goal was also to “provide equality” for the schools, ensuring each one has the technological equipment it needs.
Board member Vicki Beaty praised the effort to make sure each school is “going in the same direction” when it comes to technology usage.
“You can’t be effective if you’re going in a million different directions,” said Beaty.
Webb also stressed the importance of students having devices in their hands and explained how the district is now taking a look at how they are purchased.
Webb said he would like to see the district begin purchasing all the devices for the schools, freeing the schools up to simply purchase any software or applications they would like to have.
He noted some area school districts are already doing this. For example, Polk County Schools has provided iPads for its students, and Cleveland City Schools has distributed Google Chromebooks at its middle and high schools.
Webb also noted online state testing is on the horizon, so the number of working devices each school has — regardless of type — will become even more important. The district, rather than individual schools, purchasing devices could help with the quantity.
“We have to be ready. We’re going to online test in every single school in the county in the spring,” Webb said.
Board members and Webb also discussed the pros and cons of different device types. Some are cheaper than others, but not every device is best for every situation.
Webb explained teachers like tablets such as Apple iPads for the youngest students, but laptop devices like Chromebooks tend to be more beneficial for older students.
“When you’re looking at a device, there are multiple factors you have to consider,” said Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash.
Webb also noted Promethean boards — large touchscreen monitors widely used in county classrooms — are becoming out of date. There are currently 486 being used districtwide, and many of them were purchased 10 years ago, in 2008.
The district is now looking at having to replace these boards, as well as the projectors which work with them. This is a big budget concern Bradley County Schools will eventually have to address.
“Every elementary school principal has said to me, ‘What are we going to do about the boards?’” Webb said.
Webb said the district is already trying to stretch its technology budget. For example, he explained how each classroom computer due for replacement is now being replaced with two to three Chromebooks, resulting in lower costs and more total devices.
Webb said he believes the district has a good plan for technology moving forward. However, funding is a necessary piece of the puzzle.
“This may require reaching out to the County Commission and saying, ‘We have some real needs here,’” said Webb.
There are several funding needs. In addition to adding more devices, Webb said the district needs to address wireless connectivity problems, get a new server for the central office and add a learning management system.
However, he said biggest need is staffing. The district’s technology coaches, professionals who help teachers with instructional technology, currently each serve three schools. They have also been called upon to be computer technicians, though that is not what they were hired to do.
Webb said there would ideally be two IT staff — one technology coach and one computer technician — at each school. He said he realizes the budget is an issue, but current staffers are being spread too thin.
“I appreciate their effort, but I have stretched them to their absolute limit,” Webb said.
In addition to making sure schools have enough electronic devices and are adequately staffed, the district is also looking at a few other technology-related goals.
These include helping schools develop a digital citizenship program for students, looking at how to better monitor student device usage and adding more training opportunities for teachers.
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