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ENA’s Superintendent Voices Series

We are kicking the summer off with our Superintendent Voices Series. Each week in June, we’ll be highlighting and sharing insights from superintendents around the nation. Below is our first post in the series, which was originally featured in the Indiana School Boards Association’s Spring Journal. Stay tuned for next week’s video interview!

Education in the Digital Age and How Technology Is Reshaping Instruction—A Conversation With Indiana’s Educational Leaders

Indiana’s education communities are undergoing a massive digital transformation. According to the Indiana Department of Education’s 2017 Tech Data Plan, 76 percent of Indiana’s school systems provide one-to-one (1:1) devices for students in one or more grade levels, and 35 percent provide 1:1 at all grade levels. This includes 32 districts that did not have any 1:1 implementations in 2016, as well as 31 districts moving from 1:1 in some grade levels to all grade levels. An additional 60 districts responded that they are currently studying a move to 1:1 or have plans to launch in the 2018.

As this data demonstrates, Indiana’s superintendents, technology leaders, school board members, and educators are cultivating future-ready learning environments that support the evolving expectations and needs of the state’s students.

Indiana classroom - ENA

This generation of learners is unlike any before it, with most kindergartners beginning their academic careers with an already-working knowledge of tablets and smartphones. To these digital natives, waiting longer than ten seconds for a video to download or a page to load is unacceptable and a significant source of frustration. School systems must ensure they have the infrastructure, technology, and resources in place to successfully support, teach, and empower these inquisitive, knowledgeable, and self-sufficient learners.

Several Indiana superintendents attended the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Conference on Education. This year’s theme was “Education in the Digital Age,” a pertinent topic for superintendents across the nation. During the conference, some Indiana leaders shared their insights about the critical role technology plays in their classrooms, the importance of digital citizenship, and how instantaneous access to information is changing the learning model:

Dennis Stockdale, Superintendent, East Washington School Corporation

How important is robust connectivity in today’s learning environments?

Robust connectivity is imperative for students because that’s their world. As school leaders, we must ensure the access is there because they are dependent on it. The second critical step is the responsibility component. Schools must teach digital citizenship for students to be successful. It’s the equivalent of giving a person a new Lamborghini and putting them out on the open highway without teaching them how to drive. Without those lessons, they will be headed down a bad path. We need to teach kids how to use the Internet and their devices responsibility to ensure they become productive and knowledgeable digital citizens.

How do you leverage your resources and partnerships to support your technology initiatives?

Being from a rural community, resources are limited, so you must leverage your vendor partners effectively. It’s also important to involve your students and give them opportunities to hone and develop their skills. Creating programs within your schools that enable students to become network administrators, service repair technicians, and integration specialists can be beneficial for both your students and the school system. Working with partners who are willing to provide training to students is a valuable and sustainable plan for a small rural school like ours.

Ryan Snoddy, Superintendent, Northwestern School Corporation

How important is robust connectivity in today’s learning environments?

Robust connectivity is critical, especially in Indiana where we rely upon our network and infrastructure to support and facilitate our state’s online, standardized testing process. We completed our readiness test several weeks ago, and it went really well because of the work our internal team and Internet service provider, ENA, have done to make sure our students and staff have the broadband access they need to be successful.

How reliant are today’s students and teachers on technology in the classroom?

Our teachers and students use the Internet daily. We are a 1:1 school corporation with iPads. If we didn’t have access, we’d be in bad shape. Our newer teachers are particularly reliant upon technology. That’s one area where they are ahead of the curve. Our students are also a great resource of information. We rely on them to help our teachers with some of the issues they have.

What attributes do you look for when selecting technology service providers or vendor partners?

We look at pricing, but we also consider and assess the support and services we’ll receive. The service component is very important to us.

John Hunter, Superintendent, Union Township School Corporation

How important is robust connectivity in today’s learning environments?

Robust connectivity is vital. You must have the speed—it just has to be there. If a teacher is working on a project that requires the Internet and the network goes down, the learning is disrupted. Our teachers are so accustomed to using technology that they almost forget how to teach the other way. Our students are also heavily dependent upon it. Many of them have never known a world where the iPhone or iPad didn’t exist—they’ve grown up with the ability to receive information, music, or videos in mere seconds. That mindset changes the way schools need to teach and provide instruction to our students.

In many cases, it’s the teacher who struggles with adapting because the kids can do it. Today, it’s very common for a three-year-old child to know how to operate his or her parent’s iPhone. They don’t need instructions.

Our district has grown from 25 Mbps of broadband to 750 Mbps in just five years. That is incredible—the volume of work you can accomplish through the Internet because you have the broadband speed, and reliability is very important.

What attributes do you look for when selecting technology service providers or vendor partners?

First, the speed. You have to make sure the service you purchase is fast enough for what you are trying to accomplish. Service providers like ENA will come in and help you research that and determine exactly how much speed you are going to need. Next, the cost. You need to consider not only the initial cost, but also evaluate the long-term costs in terms of sustainability. You must make sure you can sustain your broadband speed because teachers and students rely upon it.

Dr. Sharon Johnson-Shirley, Superintendent, Lake Ridge Schools

How important is robust connectivity in today’s learning environments?

Robust connectivity is one of the most critical resources you provide your students because it is their connection to the world. Many of our students don’t have the opportunity to travel. Being connected to the Internet gives them the ability to meet, talk, learn from, and collaborate with students, staff, and experts around the globe.

How reliant are today’s students and teachers on technology in the classroom?

If my staff and students aren’t connected, it’s like the world stops. If the Internet goes down for a few minutes, my students are on top of it and let me know. They have a fit! I think that’s great because it demonstrates how much it’s enhancing their learning experience. That’s why it’s important to have bring your own [BYO] technology initiatives in place because it enables students to remain connected if the school system’s network is compromised in some manner.

What attributes do you look for when selecting technology service providers or vendor partners?

With any technology-related service, it must be student-friendly and accessible for all students. It’s critical that all learners have the ability to connect.

Dave Chapman, Superintendent, South Vermillion Community School Corporation

How important is robust connectivity in today’s learning environments?

I think it’s essential, especially for schools that are migrating to 1:1 learning environments. Mobile, anytime/anywhere learning requires seamless access, so students and staff need connectivity in their classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, gymnasiums, etc. If you don’t have it, you will lose ground in terms of classroom instruction.

I think the key is engagement. We are an impatient society—we don’t like to wait. Our children are a product of society, and our society is high tech. They are accustomed to getting up-to-date information and answers immediately. If the connectivity isn’t available to facilitate instantaneous learning or analysis, student engagement levels drop immediately. When looking at subjects like science and math, it’s very important for them to receive immediate responses and feedback. Technology also enables them to engage with their subject matter in a three-dimensional component that is impossible to achieve with textbooks.

Education is in the midst of a digital renaissance as administrators and teachers redefine what is possible with the advent of new technologies. As evidenced by the conversations above, robust connectivity is necessary to support mobile and dynamic learning environments and provide our students with access to the resources they need to thrive and excel.

Rachel is ENA’s communications manager. As the daughter of two educators, she is passionate about spotlighting and sharing the impressive outcomes being produced in today’s education and library communities.
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