Schools cram Eagle County classrooms with technology
Eagle County, CO Colorado
EAGLE, COLORADO ” Students in the Eagle County school districts have started to reap the benefits from the $128 million bond approved by voters two years ago.
The school district has devoted $4 million for upgrading both technology and, when necessary, the buildings themselves.
In July 2006, an independent audit determined that 80 to 85 percent of Eagle County schools had obsolete network technology, which meant not only that actual equipment was substandard, but that communications lines weren’t built for high-speed access.
“We were very fortunate to have citizens pass that bond issue, and I still thank them to this day,” said John Kuglin, director of technology for the Eagle County school district. “Since then we’ve put in high-speed (Internet) lines that have increased our speed at least 10-fold, and in the next few weeks we’ll increase our overall speed a little more.”
Kuglin said to increase the speed of online communications, the district now turns a knob to increase the bandwidth, simplifying the process a great deal.
One of the unexpected benefits of the investment in technology has been a federal program that gives the district a hefty discount on telecommunications lines.
“I don’t know if that’s been reported yet, but it’s certainly a little known piece,” Kuglin said. “Because of our rates of free and reduced lunches, the district gets a 60 percent discount, so we’re building up network speeds and still have those dollars left over to apply to meaningful technologies and put them in the hands of kids. It’s a case of how one thing begets another.”
With those extra dollars, the district has ensured students have access to the latest technology to enhance learning, from video conferencing to electronic white boards and document cameras.
At Red Hill Elementary, fifth graders had a video conference with astronauts in Houston, projected on new 42-inch televisions in their classroom. In the next several weeks, a sixth grade class at Gypsum Creek Middle School will be able to video conference with a school in Egypt.
New promethium boards, or electronic white boards have also expanded the tools available for teachers to use in the classroom.
“It’s kind of like the magic board they use on CNN,” Kuglin said. “All teachers have laptop computers, so they get hooked up to the electronic white board, run the software, and they can tap on the board or write on it. If they have Google Earth running, for example, the whole earth may be spinning on the board.”
Finally, the district is putting document cameras to good use, which are cameras with a platform underneath.
“This means elementary teachers can have books projected (onto a wall), or you can hook up microscopes, or even create time lapse movies,” he said.
The district hasn’t finished its purchases either.
“There are always developments in technology. One of the systems we’re looking at putting in is a student response system using handheld clickers,” Kuglin said, adding that teachers would be able to immediately assess their students’ understanding of a subject without singling anyone out. “The key is that they can figure out how well kids are learning anonymously, because sometimes kids are afraid to raise their hand and say they don’t know or don’t understand something.”
But as exciting as the new gadgets and gizmos are, Kuglin maintains they are just a means to an end.
“The big issue right now is professional development. We’re really focused on creating systems to train teachers how to use the technology not for technology’s sake, but as tools to facilitate learning.”
The district is now actively involved in setting up a professional development system to accomplish just that.
Kuglin said the way students learn has changed a great deal over the last couple decades, and advancements in classroom technology are an attempt to help teachers adjust their strategies to better connect with their students.
“Eisenhower signed the interstate highway act in the ’50s because he had a vision of just how important having a network of roads would be to our country,” Kuglin said. “By making these adjustments and having high-speed Internet access and these kinds of things, we’re preparing for how learning will take place in the future. What we’re doing for education is as important and necessary as the federal highway system was last century.”
Nathan Rodriguez may be reached at email@example.com or at 970-748-2955.