Guest Post: How Technologies Support District Goals of Being Digital on Day One

October 10, 2018
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Digital Day One with the Right Technologies

In the School District of Pickens County, our goal is to be “Digital on Day One” so our students and teachers have access on the very first day of school to the devices and content they need.  We have been working toward this goal for five years now and have made some key decisions around software, professional development, and network infrastructure to help us reach this goal.

Digital Top Stops

We’ve put in several software applications that we believe are critical in order to become “Digital on Day One,” which we call our Digital Top Stops.  Our first Digital Top Stop is ClassLink. ClassLink is our single sign-on application.  With one login, students, teachers, and staff have one-click access into their web applications.  We put links to all of our digital textbooks, online assessments, and other instructional web applications into our ClassLink Launchpad.  We are able to assign apps to specific users or Active Directory groups.  Students, teachers, and staff may also add links to their own web apps.  We use OneRoster, an open source IMS Global standard, to roster many of our textbooks and applications.  With OneRoster we send one set of files to our vendors and textbook publishing companies daily.  These companies then use these files to generate the rosters and login credentials our students and teachers need.

Teachers no longer waste valuable time manually maintaining class rosters for these applications.  Because of ClassLink, our teachers and students are not wasting time finding URLs to web apps, nor are they struggling to remember their logins and passwords to different sites.  They have one login, with one-click access to content.

Our second Digital Top Stop is Schoology. Schoology is our learning management system (LMS).  Schoology is a robust LMS that integrates with our student information system, PowerSchool.  Schoology enables course content creation, where teachers can easily personalize learning for individuals and differentiate learning for small groups.  Schoology has a strong assessment component which can be tied to mastery of state academic learning standards.  It can also provide instant feedback for test takers and teachers, with a variety of question types closely resembling statewide testing.  The Schoology grade book syncs back to PowerSchool.  Schoology integrates with multiple web applications such as Google Drive, Mc Graw-Hill ConnectEd, CK-12, BrainPop, Classworks, Quizlet, Safari Montage, and more.

Our third Digital Top Stop is Safari Montage. Safari Montage is our learning object repository. Think of it as a library for digital resources.  We subscribe to paid content, but we also put our textbook cartridges in Safari.  Textbook cartridges are the hundreds and hundreds of digital components (audio, video, images, pdf files, etc.) on a textbook publisher’s platform, broken into individual learning assets linked to state academic learning standards.  With Safari Montage, our teachers have access to over 100,000 learning objects which are searchable by keyword and state academic learning standards.  We also use Safari Montage for Internet TV and for streaming live news shows.

Keeping it Simple

All of our Digital Top Stops work well with each other.  Students typically start with ClassLink.  From there they can log in to Schoology and go to their courses where teachers can build daily lessons with content from a variety of web applications.  Students also can go directly to their web applications from ClassLink without going through Schoology.  We like to make it easy to access digital content, so our teachers and students are free to be creative.

The Benefits of Coaching

In 2017, our district hired two instructional technology coaches–one for elementary and one for secondary.  We strongly believe that our tech coaches have really helped our teachers learn how to integrate digital content into curriculum units to create rigorous and relevant instruction for our students.  In 2018, we saw continued and sustained academic growth on state testing, which we know was supported by the work of our coaches.

Tech It Home

In addition to building a strong software ecosystem for teachers and students, we also have provided them with the devices needed for learning.  We started our one-to-one initiative in 2015 with Chromebooks in 9th grade, in what we call our Tech It Home program.  The next year, our district was the recipient of a $5 million grant from AT&T as part of the ConnectEd broadband initiative.  Our 6th and 7th graders received tablets with 5 Gb of LTE data each month.  We also implemented Chromebooks in grades 8 and 10-12 that year.  Last year, we implemented Tech It Home in grades 4-5, and this year we added grade 3.  We believe our Tech It Home program is highly effective because of the thoughtful design of our digital ecosystem which includes our Digital Top Stops and the support of our instructional technology coaches.

Building Capacity

The next major technology project we are near to completing is redesigning our network infrastructure.  We are using Category 1 E-rate funds to lease a dark fiber ring network, which will be up and running by fall of 2019.  We are in the process of moving our servers to a data center and have joined C-Light as an Internet2 provider.  We’ve added a disaster recovery system that allows us to spin up any server in our district within hours of ransomware, malware, or an electronic disaster.  Once the network redesign is complete, every school will have 10 Gb of bandwidth on our wide-area network with multiple Internet providers.  Each school also will have two fiber paths to both our network operating center and data center in the event of a fiber cut.

Great IT Now Prepares Students for The Future

This thoughtful, long-term design of technology infrastructure has taken many years and a lot of work by our dedicated IT department and the support of our superintendent, Dr. Danny Merck, and our board of trustees.  This work is enabling our teachers and students to be digital on day one, able to access the devices, applications, and bandwidth needed for the learning that will make them college and career ready.  Because of the diligent work we’ve done, our district was selected to be part of a state-wide pilot of Digital Learning Days for inclement weather make-up.  We’re confident our IT department is providing the resources needed so the School District of Pickens County can fulfill its vision, providing a quality 21st-century education that prepares all students for success beyond the classroom.

Barbara J. Nesbitt, PhD
Executive Director of Technology
School District of Pickens County
@nesbitj   @SDPCTechSavvy

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