The use of technologies in the classroom can be discussed as advantageous to optimize the teaching process and to facilitate the students’ progress in learning. The Webster School District is a comparably small school district located in Webster, Wisconsin. Three schools are administered within the Webster School District: High School, Middle School, and Elementary School. Annually, the Webster School District provides services for about 700 students, and the size of the staff is 103 full-time employees (Webster School District, 2014).
According to the District Superintendent, the administration of the school district is focused on the continuous improvement of the schools’ performance rate and on the use of effective instructional practices along with the integration of modern technologies in the teaching-learning process. From this perspective, it is important to develop an effective technology plan in which the administration’s goals are correlated with available resources, and the strategies for the effective integration of more technologies in the teaching-learning process are proposed. In order to develop the efficient technology plan contributing to the teachers’ professional development, to the improvement of the teaching-learning process, and to the improvement of students’ performance, it is necessary to evaluate current practices followed in the school district and available resources, concentrate on demographics and possible obstacles for the technology plan implementation.
Performance Gap in Meeting Technology Goals and Initiatives
The Webster School District works to support the idea that the modern teaching-learning process is closely associated with the development of students’ digital literacy skills. Furthermore, much attention is paid to using technologies to stimulate students’ learning. Currently, the Webster School District utilizes 550 computers, 85 junior and senior laptops, and 42 SMART Boards. Students have the opportunity to work in 12 computer labs and with 3 student response systems. Virtual and distance education is realized in the Interactive Video Room and with the help of HPLL Cart technology. Students and teachers also use LCD projectors, digital cameras, DVD players, 6 iPads, and 2 iPods to support the instruction (Webster School District, 2014). The access to technologies allows improvement of the teaching-learning process. The extensive use of technologies is the classroom is supported with references to the principles of Pragmatism and Constructivism because students can use technologies to organize and structure the information. As a result, students improve abilities in synthesizing the material and distinguishing main points (Liu, Ritzhaupt, & Cavanaugh, 2013, p. 576; Schmid et al., 2009, p. 96). Moreover, the use of technologies improves skills in collecting the data from diverse sources.
Teachers in Elementary School actively use computers, iPads, iPods, and SMART Boards in order to motivate students and stimulate their attention. The focus is on developing the basic technology skills. Developing skills in operating technological devices, students are more actively engaged in the learning process and demonstrate high results (Murphy, 2013, p. 252; Sheppard & Brown, 2014, p. 85). Educators in Middle and High Schools are focused on using computers and SMART Boards, and on the students’ work in computer labs. Teachers indicate that the use of technologies contributes to achieving the program goals, but the problem is in the fact that the current technologic base is not enough to develop students’ skills in finding and evaluating online information effectively. The use of the Moodle technology and devices for the assessment of students’ activities is only at the starting stage.
The administration points at the successes in implementing distance learning and the student email system. In spite of the contribution of distance learning technologies to improving the performance of students with disabilities and improvement of the administration of classes with the help of student email and notification systems, the work of these systems should be regularly improved and regulated in order to create effective technology-based environments (Richardson, 2012, p. 23; Whitehead, 2013, p. 12). The special education department uses laptops and the voice recognition software, but the integration of more technologies is necessary. Server-based applications for records and accounts are implemented to improve administration activities. However, the administration of the Webster School District achieved only first results in developing the technological background for the teaching-leaning process and administering the schools’ activities. The school district’s website is developed, but the limited use to connect with the community is observed.
Demographics of Webster School District
The population of Webster, Wisconsin, cannot be discussed as highly diverse. According to the data of 2012, the population of Webster is 644 persons. The majority is presented by the white population (more than 90%), and the minorities are presented by the black population (about 2%), American Indians (about 1%), and Hispanics (about 1%) among other and mixed races (Webster School District, 2014). However, the student population in the Webster School District is more diverse because urban and rural residents from the nearby towns and villages also attend schools of the Webster School District.
In the 2013-2014 school year, the Webster School District enrolled 715 students, and 687 students were enrolled during the 2014-2015 year. According to the factor of ethnicity, the district provides services for 533 white students, 74 American Indians, and 17 Hispanics as the major ethnic groups. Currently, 83 students with disabilities study at the district’s schools. Following the gender factor, it is important to note that 52% male and 48% female students study at schools of the Webster School District (Webster School District, 2014).
Current Practices in Place for Meeting Technology Goals
The Webster School District Administration developed the Information and Technology Plan for 2012-2015 in order to improve students’ performance and maximize their learning along with improving educators’ strategies related to the teaching process (Webster School District, 2014). Current practices associated with the integration of technologies in the teaching-learning process are realized with the focus on completing the objectives presented in the technology plan. New goals for the plan were identified in 2011, and the efficient action plan to support the stated goals was proposed. These goals are the focus on educating students on using social media and on the issue of cyberbullying; the development of online curricular materials; the increase of the access to electronic devices; and the provision of more training related to the use of technology.
In order to meet the current technology plan’s goals, the administration improves the work of computer labs; integrates seminars on the rules of online communication and issues of privacy and cyberbullying to promote effective online communication; and provides the access to the necessary hardware and software to improve productivity of teachers and students. Much attention is paid to developing the database of online learning materials for students because the majority of students discuss the access to online materials as the important factor to motivate, save time, and increase productivity (Forcier & Descy, 2007, p. 54; Means, 2010, p. 285). Students have the opportunity to access the necessary information easily, while developing their inventive thinking.
The focus on enhancing the online communication between the teaching staff and students is one more effective practice integrated in the Webster School District. The database of student Google email addresses is created, and it is actively used by teachers to contact their students and send necessary notifications (Webster School District, 2014). The administration also focuses on developing Moodle course management system, but currently, the system does not provide access to all the schools’ courses.
Obstacles in Incorporating Technology
Although the current technology plan is perfectly developed and presents effective goals to meet the staff and students’ needs, there are obstacles in incorporating technology in schools according to the set goals. Thus, technologies are used actively in the classrooms of Elementary School, but the general technologic base of the Webster School District does not allow the equal use of necessary technologies in all grades because of the high demand and focus on equipping Middle and High schools. The situation limits teachers in their opportunities to effectively integrate technologies in the instruction practices (Lawless & Pellegrino, 2007, p. 575). The strategy to cope with technologic equipment shortages in the Webster School District is not addressed directly in the plan, and this factor negatively affects the whole process of meeting technology goals in Webster School District.
One more obstacle is the lack of the necessary instruction and training for teachers who demonstrate the lack of competence in using online databases, multimedia software to create new products, digital cameras and video editing software, and web tools to create the web page for publishing online materials (Harris, Mishra, & Koehler, 2009, p. 393; Webster School District, 2014). As a result, students also lack knowledge in entering information in databases, using multimedia, and creating web pages.
The development of the virtual communication between teachers and students is necessary, but it is limited because of the use of ineffective systems. In addition, the administration provides parents and community members with the limited opportunities to use technologies in order to contact the teaching staff and participate in the school life of students. Much attention should be paid to improving the Webster School District website, providing teachers with the necessary software, and providing the IT support to enhance the electronic communication in the schools.
In spite of the fact that the Webster School District uses the developed Technology Plan for 2012-2015 years while admitting the necessity to effective integration of technologies in classrooms and administration, there is still the gap in performance of teachers and students, and much attention should be paid to improving the school district’s approach to utilizing technologies. In order to meet the technology goals set in the Webster School District Technology Plan, it is necessary to overcome obstacles associated with integrating the plan and to focus on addressing the schools’ needs directly.
First, the administration of the Webster School District should resolve the issues associated with technologic equipment shortages in order to provide teachers and students with the equal access to resources while improving their motivation, cooperation, and inventive and creative thinking. Second, it is necessary to provide the teaching staff with the necessary training on using the advantages of technologies because many teachers avoid using devices and software in classrooms due to the lack of knowledge and skills. Finally, the system of the virtual communication of teachers, students, and parents, and community members should be improved with the focus on the development of the Moodle system, website, and email communication.
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