Kim Wallace, who’s been a principal in the Davis school district since 2008, took on a new title in December: director of instructional technology and learning. And the job description that goes with that recently created position is pretty challenging. Basically, she’s on a mission to upgrade classroom technology in a school district that hasn’t necessarily kept up in some areas, and at some campuses.
“Our infrastructure is old,” Wallace observed. The cabling and switches behind the walls, the behind-the-scenes technology that people don’t usually think about … a lot of that stuff is 10 or 12 years old.” And in a constantly changing field like technology, where equipment is getting smaller and faster, stuff that’s 12 years old is almost antediluvian.
This aging infrastructure is hampering the school district’s ability to take advantage of newer technology, Wallace added. “Until we get our infrastructure in better shape, anything new that we buy (to use in the classrooms) is not going to work at optimum speed, because of what’s behind the walls.
“But that said, a lot of what we have on site at our campuses is not the newest equipment, either,” Wallace acknowledged. “The computers that our students are using in labs range from fairly new at some sites, to 10 years old at other sites. There’s a real inequity between our school sites in terms of what people are using.”
Much computer lab equipment was funded with money raised by each school’s PTA, and some PTA groups have had more success raising money than others.
Then there’s the matter of providing new laptop computers to teachers. In 2001, the Davis district was one of the first in the region to provide every full-time teacher with a laptop. Last year, teachers at the secondary level got new laptops. Last month, the school board voted to do the same for elementary teachers.
Birch Lane Elementary teachers Michael Monticello and Bonnie Walther practically danced a jig when they spoke at the Jan. 24 school board meeting, telling the trustees, “Thank you for our new computers; we appreciate getting tools that we need. Your money has been well spent and will yield high returns!”
But upgrading the elementary teachers’ laptops is just the first of several steps.
“We need the new laptops before we can have training on some of the software that they couldn’t run on their old laptops,” Wallace said. “There are things that need to be done in sequence.”
Wallace comes to the task with a doctorate in educational leadership that she completed last year at UC Davis. The title of her dissertation was “Teachers and Technology: Uses, Barriers and Strategies to Increase Classroom Integration.” And part of her job description is to bring that perspective to the task.
“The real key (with technology) is having a long-term view … not just being reactive when things break,” she said. “We need to have a vision of meeting the needs, a vision that is funded, supported, communicated well, and planned out. So that the community, the parents, the school district staff — everyone — has an understanding of where we’re going, so it doesn’t appear to be a piecemeal approach.”
Wallace is finding that everyone wants to talk about computer tablets.
“These can be far cheaper than setting up a computer lab; you can have tablet carts that go from one classroom to another,” she explained. “The apps for tablets are very education-friendly, you can sometimes download an app for $4.99 and have it on every tablet. Tablets are becoming very popular in elementary schools in other districts. Under teacher supervision, then can be a good way for kids to have an introduction to technology.”
What about giving students a tablet containing electronic versions of textbooks, rather than having students tote around a set of heavy printed textbooks in their backpack? That day is doubtless coming, but it’s not quite here yet.
What about having students bring their own tablets, smartphones and other devices from home, and allowing them to use them at school?
“That brings a whole set of opportunities and a whole set of challenges,” Wallace said. Da Vinci Charter Academy is trying out a “bring your own device” program.
That’s a far cry from earlier school bans on new technology items like electronic calculators in the 1970s and cell phones in the 1990s, which later became standard equipment in most students’ backpacks.
Wallace added that the implementation of the new Common Core academic standards, and the new testing regime that will go with it, replacing the current STAR tests, will trigger some big changes, including the phase-out of paper-based multiple-choice “bubble tests,” in which students use a pencil to mark the paper test form.
“The new Common Core assessments will be computer-based, and we will need to have a certain level of technology for our students to take those assessments,” she explained. “I’m fairly sure that we’re not fully equipped to handle the capacity that we will need to do that. You can have kids take the assessment on a set of iPads in the classroom. But you don’t just buy the tablets five days before the test. You have to have the kids using tablets comfortably, long before you hand them a tablet to take a high-stakes test.”
Wallace is also aware that when students go home at the end of the school day, many have access to high-speed wireless Internet, but others do not.
And then there’s the matter of online courses.
“The district already has a pilot for online learning going on at the Davis School for Independent Study,” Wallace said. (She was the half-time principal at DSIS until she took on the new technology post; she retains an assignment as the half-time principal at King High School.)
“One other thing I’d like to convey: It’s not about the technology itself,” she concluded. “It’s about how people are using technology to educate students. Learning through technology is the point. And good teaching using technology is the method.
“Just having the tools doesn’t mean learning is happening. It’s really important to equip the teachers with the training, the philosophy, the troubleshooting ability and the paradigm that we are shifting into — so that it’s not done in a haphazard way that doesn’t contribute to student achievement. Student achievement is our ultimate goal.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or 530-747-8055.