Tech Leadership                                           Page 12


Rewiring Our Thinking

About Wireless Devices    



Jared Mader

Society is AT A TIPPING POINT. The number of mobile devices on the planet soon will exceed the number of laptop and desktop counterparts combined.

The Red Lion Area School District in south-central Pennsylvania has been observing the increasing number of students and teachers arriving at school with wireless devices in hand. We knew we had to adapt, to be ahead of the curve in readying our systems and beliefs to accommodate and welcome the ubiquitous technology. Here’s how we did it.

•  We defined a shared vision for instructional use of wireless devices. The permissible use of personal wireless devices shattered the norm in our district. Every leadership team member had to be clear about the educational importance of these devices. We cultivated this by requiring all administrators to use mobile devices in their professional work. In doing so, they received valuable context through which to view wireless tools.

We then tied the use of technology to our standards-based curriculum through the National Educational Technology Standards published by the International Society for Technology Education. This was a key step to appreciating the instructional relevance of wireless devices in the classroom.

•  We revised our policies. Once clear on our vision for implementation, every governance document had to reflect the acceptable use of personal devices within established guidelines. Failing to do this would result in a dissonance between policy and practice in the physical plant. After nearly two years of adaptation, the organizational policies and procedures of our district have been articulated, and they now are congruent with our vision.

•  We updated our infrastructure. Our district was saddled with a network infrastructure constructed during a time when only district-owned devices were permitted to traverse it. To accommodate the personal devices, we had to allocate the financial resources to address three areas.

First, we needed a pervasive wireless network installed in all instructional areas. Second, we needed to segment users away from the district’s “production” environment through their authentication process. Finally, we had to require users to pass through the same filtering appliance that exists for those using district-owned devices.

We achieved these goals by installing a cloud-based Meraki wireless solution throughout our facilities.

•  We committed to communicate, communicate, communicate. Parents in our nearly 6,000-student school district always have been told their children may not display personal devices during class. Now we had to be clear with parents about the new expectation for use for and purpose of wireless devices, and to communicate clearly that the student is responsible to care for the device while in school.

We addressed this through parent newsletters, One Call Now mass notifications, administrator blog posts, Twitter feeds and district website notices.

•  We committed to continuous professional development. One fallacy that permeated our school district was that the teacher had to support all of the devices in the classroom. This is just not true. Turning over control to the students allows them to help one another and even guide the direction of class.

The most important professional training teachers needed was in the skills to modify their instruction and learning activities through the use of digital media, web-based apps and communication tools for the classroom. It was about changing instruction, not about devices and hardware. I provided this connection for teachers through weekly GoToMeeting webinars and professional development days dedicated to a taxonomy of technology integration focusing on digital-age skills.

While our process was methodical, the prevalent beliefs about teaching and learning that had long operated in our schools posed the most serious challenge. This is why the process began with the development of a shared vision.

Jared Mader is director of technology services in the Red Lion Area Schools in Red Lion, Pa. E-mail: maderj@rlasd.net 

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