District’s tech union continues with U of M

Published 10:04 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A partnership between Austin Public Schools and the University of Minnesota’s Learning Technologies Media Lab will continue this school year.

LT Media Lab leaders met with the school board Monday at its regularly scheduled meeting to discuss how the partnership went last school year. LT Media Labs aims to help Austin Public Schools in its technology integration initiative.

“To be invited to help support change in a district to help re-imagine what learning can be with or without technology is I think what drives the media lab and all of us as educators,” said Cassandra Scharber, an assistant U of M professor and co-director of the Learning Technologies Media Lab. “So being invited to help work on this together was really an honor.”

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Educational Services Director John Alberts said the district partnered with the university because they’re more connected to the learning and research around integrating technology.

“We work with them to get informed of some best practices and some things we ought to be aware of, and they help us go through those implementation things,” Alberts said.

Alberts said the partnership went well during the 2014-15 school year, and LT Media Lab members were able to work with administration, staff and some teachers to help integrate the new technologies into the school.

“It’s important because it gives us the resource to practice what’s occurring outside the district, in this case state and nation wide, around technology integration,” Alberts said. “So it keeps us informed on what’s happening and also helps us learn both what to consider as well as what not to do.”

The partnership is funded by the Hormel Foundation.

The district added the one-to-one initiative at Ellis Middle School last year, which made sure every student had their own laptop for school work. The district also saw an increase in the number of laptops in elementary classrooms. For the 2015-2016 school year, Austin will pilot a program for ninth-grade students to test out a Windows computer versus a Chrome-book computer. At the end of the first semester, the district will decide which to use with the help of university leaders.

Alberts said the plan is to have a one-to-one initiative with laptops start in Austin High School for the 2016-2017 school year.

Neveln Elementary School is also starting a new program this year called Launch, which is the elementary curriculum for Project Lead the Way (PLTW). PLTW is a program that supplies training and curriculum for teachers to implement science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or STEM, concepts into their classrooms.

“I think we just are going to continue to explore the ways in which we can utilize technology tools to really get after those learning statements and really help students effectively learn in Austin,” Alberts said.

Scharber was also excited to see how Austin uses the different technology resources.

“I think we are really interested in seeing what’s happening at both Neveln and Austin High School, because they’re beginning new initiatives that we were part of planning conversations with,” she said. “And then also seeing how the district plan for technology integration kind of trickles out from there.”

Alberts noted the district has used a slower approach to integrating technology into classrooms, as administrators wanted to make sure they had tools that would best fit their needs before buying technology that might not be the best fit for student needs.

“There’s a lot of potential for some incredible teaching and learning to happen, but we also wanted to make sure we did it in a way that was going to support long term change,” Alberts added.

Scharber applauded the district for its slow but steady pace toward technology, saying it “may not be as sexy of a title as people would like, but it’s sustainable and has a long term impact.”

“It’s really easy for districts to say their giving a new computer or iPad to every student, but the [support] behind them often doesn’t happen,” she said. “And Austin’s not doing that, which is great.”