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updated: 4/24/2014 4:41 PM

District 200 officials talk future of technology

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School board members received a lengthy lesson this week on technology's role in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 and how it could and should be expanded.

Rodney Mack, executive director of technology, presented a three-hour update Wednesday during a meeting at the Technology Center of DuPage in Addison.

Mack covered three topics during his presentation, including the reliability and stability of the district's current technology; what digital age learning looks like and how it already has started to be implemented; and technology targets for the next three school years.

Current technology

For the past few years, the district has focused on improving its technology infrastructure, Mack said.

That has included quicker response time, improved vulnerability monitoring and new software that tracks network traffic and system health.

"Today when we talk about reliability and support, we feel this is one of our best years," he said. "We've had very targeted goals to getting there, we've put the right systems in place, we changed some of our internal practices to get there and we've seen the benefit."

Mack said the technology services department is at a turning point as it figures out how to support a digital learning environment.

"It's nice to not have to think about all the broken things," he said. "We can start to think about where we're going next. Are we ready for a huge digital infusion? Are we ready for (bring your own device)? What are we ready for? What changes do we need to make so we can start to focus on what's going to happen in the classrooms?"

Some hurdles, Mack said, are balancing professional development, staff members' willingness to conform to technology changes and availability of equipment. Any changes in technology must also be "fiscally responsible and sustainable," he said.

Digital learning

Superintendent Brian Harris said increasing technology across the district is something that must happen soon.

"At some point we'll say that's it -- this is part of it, this is an instructional tool that's required, everybody's got to be in the game," he said. "Quite frankly, the kids are going to drive that. It's not going to be an option too much longer here."

In November, the district created free Google accounts for staff and introduced Google applications for education.

It wasn't mandated that the accounts be used, but more than 80 percent of the people who were granted access used it. About 62 percent used it sometime in past five days, Mack said, and more than 16,000 documents have been shared in the district since the Google accounts were launched.

A steering committee on Google applications will be chosen next month. In June, the district is hosting a professional development day focused on Google. And at the beginning of next school year, middle and high school students will get access to Google accounts.

Administrators stressed that integrating technology in the classroom allows students to share information quickly with each other and their teachers.

"Part of Common Core (standards) is being able to talk about your strategies and your thinking and being able to defend that and share it," said Faith Dahlquist, assistant superintendent for educational services. "The ability to do that with Google Feedback is much faster and easier."

Introducing devices

Now, the challenge will be to carefully decide which route to go with devices that will create a new, ongoing cost for the district.

"The change must -- it has to -- increase student learning and engagement," Mack said. "It's not just about devices in people's hands. It has to make a difference to how they're learning at the same time."

One-to-one devices means suppling each student with their own digital device, such as a Google Chromebook computer, an iPad or some other technology.

While it's the way many districts are going, Harris said perhaps it's not the answer for every classroom or grade level. For example, he suggested 10 devices in an elementary classroom may be enough.

Requiring students to bring their own devices was mentioned, but officials noted numerous complications with that method, from a teacher having to learn how to use all the devices to a low-income student not being able to afford one.

There were a lot of questions from board members about what the next step is, and many of them were focused on the cost.

The estimated cost of implementing one-to-one devices for one grade level is about $700,000, which includes some new infrastructure, $300 Chromebooks for 1,000 students, $85 worth of supplies for the computers, two technical support staff and two instructional coaches that would amount to about $220,000, and about $35,000 in professional development.

One five-year plan included the purchase of 1,000 devices for a test group to use in the 2015-16 school year. Another 2,000 devices would be added in 2016-17, followed by another 4,000 in 2017-18 and a final 3,000 in 2018-19.

It would all amount to about $5.4 million.

Mack noted that Chromebooks would likely have to be replaced every three years. If the district decided to go with a $500 device that might last longer than a Chromebook, such as an iPad, the cost could be upward of $7.4 million over five years.

Overall, the district's information technology department would need between $1.5 million and $2 million added to its budget each year.

Board members said they want to know more about the benefits of one-to-one learning, how to apply community feedback to their decisions and where the money would come from.

Harris said some districts have a "blended scenario" to fund devices, such as combining money allocated by the district with student fees and other capital resources.

Right now, Dahlquist said, a Future of Integrated Technology committee is working on how to get staff members to have a "mind-shift" about what instruction looks like.

"We haven't spent time even saying, 'Well, how would you want to go one-to-one?' because we might not have any funding to even be thinking about that as a possibility," she said. "We don't want to spend a whole lot of time talking about when we want to go one-to-one if there's no chance. There's lots of things you can do on instruction without going one-to-one."

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