This is a guest post from Dr. Farrah Mahan, Director of Curriculum and Marc Plevinsky, Assistant Director of Technology at Cherry Hill Public Schools about how the EdTech Assessment Tool helped them prioritize their planning and bring in more authentic students and teacher voice.
Bringing Tech & Curriculum Together
Cherry Hill is a 24-square mile area located in southern New Jersey, about 20 minutes from Philadelphia. Our district serves a diverse community with over 11,000 students in grades pre-K through 12th across 19 schools. Cherry Hill Public Schools is the 12th largest school district in the state. During the 2017 school year, our superintendent announced that the Office of Curriculum and Instruction would merge with the Technology Department to support an integrated approach to teaching and learning.
This merger has been a game changer for the district, and has sparked a journey of integration, teacher and student voice, solutions-oriented conversations, and the leveraging of corporate partnerships to support the district in making the best of technology integration embedded in curriculum and instruction each day.
With a five year plan crafted but not set in stone, our new(ish) team was open and excited about the opportunity to make use of our combined strengths. To do this, we wanted to better understand our capabilities so that we could target and focus on areas that would drive the most improvement for students and teachers.
Enter the EdTech Assessment Tool
We were talking with SMART Technologies about our tech implementation and we learned about the EdTech Assessment Tool that they developed, based on standards and best practices from around the world including organizations like the OECD and ISTE. We quickly realized that this could be a really powerful tool to help us understand where to focus our efforts to drive improvement in the district. It was an easy decision to have leaders from across the district take the survey.
The analysis showed us how our principals, administrative teams, instructional teams and technology teams perceived levels of development in each of the capabilities that the survey reports on. Based on the survey data, we were also able to correlate which capabilities had the strongest relationship with positive outcomes in schools, which was really interesting to see.
When we got the data back, it was easy to feel good about it: “Hey, we’re doing good with network infrastructure and PD, great!” But it’s more than just that. What’s important is to look at the key areas for improvement.
Survey Says: Improve the Voice
Student and teacher voice was a key area where we saw room for improvement. After sharing the survey results at an administrator meeting, we were able to quickly take next steps. We asked for nominations for a diverse group of student representatives who could share their voice about our technology implementation plans.
What we learned from the students was very enlightening: “We don’t want your devices.”
We heard loud and clear that 1:1 wasn’t what they wanted, despite community input calling for that to be the path forward. We also heard how much students care about fiscal responsibility, and how important equity for all of their peers is.
Our new structure with curriculum and technology under the same umbrella allows us to make course corrections with ease, and this was somewhere that we did that. It was only possible based on the insight and recommendations from the EdTech Assessment Tool.
We moved away from our initial plan of 1:1 across the district and instead worked to implement a ‘vending machine’ type approach for students to access devices where they can select an iPad one day and a laptop the next, should that be what they need. This is a step toward ensuring equitable access for all students—they don’t even have to speak to anyone in order to sign out a piece of technology, they’re empowered to choose what they need, and to be responsible for it.
To start addressing and bringing more of the teacher voice into both the planning and implementation of our technology, we were able to create a new program for teachers interested in helping their peers learn and feel empowered to use technology.
Preparation and the Pandemic
Our lessons learned and newfound agility addressing our district’s technology needs were directly put to the test and transformed into actions with the closing of our schools in March 2020 due to COVID-19. The tech and curriculum teams needed our collaboration more than ever and rapidly adapted the systems and tools available to our staff and students.
Our planning discussions led to a fast realization that we needed a way to put devices in the hands of students and ensure that they had internet connectivity. This was not just about devices, but logistics requiring an “all hands on deck” “drive up” device pickup for students, not just with tech and curriculum, but with support from campus security, public information, buildings and groups and building administrators.
The district distributed over 2,500 devices in a few hours. Our creative problem solving led to solutions for neighborhood WiFi access and delivery of WiFi hotspots to families that lacked internet connectivity. The challenges of operating schools during COVID-19 are massive, but our students and staff continue to learn via the technology tools that seemed five years ahead but are now expected and utilized each instructional day.
Assessing for Better Outcomes
When we combined the tech and curriculum teams two years ago, we took a huge step forward in terms of removing barriers to success. With the EdTech Assessment Tool, we were able to continue doing that in an increasingly authentic way—it wasn’t just us talking any more. We were able to bring in teacher and student voices in new and meaningful ways, improving access and outcomes for everyone.
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