Adopting Instructional Technology to Improve Education
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Adopting Instructional Technology to Improve Education

James Butler, Director of Instructional Technology at Tucson Unified School District
James Butler, Director of Instructional Technology at Tucson Unified School District

James Butler, Director of Instructional Technology at Tucson Unified School District

This is an exciting time to be a part of Tucson Unified School District. As the Director of Instructional Technology, I understand we are not without our challenges; however we have several key technology initiatives being developed that are designed to directly impact teaching and learning. We don’t teach technology; we teach kids. In my view  teaching and learning is what  drives technology, not the other way around. We are continuing our digital transformation in order to ensure our students are truly ready for their future . To that end, we have found the following considerations to be paramount to our success moving forward, regardless of the type of technology being implemented.

 Students can work individually or collaboratively with other students on group projects, problem solve and share their work totally online utilizing the same tools found in today’s workforce 

Digital Citizenship

According to digitalcitizenship.net, digital citizenship is defined as “the continuously developing norms of appropriate, responsible, and empowered technology use.” While there is an abundance of focus on ensuring students are well acquainted with good digital citizenship, we must be reminded to communicate to all constituents, (teachers, parents, support staff) how we define digital citizenship and why it is a crucial foundation to teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Ongoing, Purposeful Professional Development

 This vignette was found on Linkedin.com, author unknown. A School District Superintendent and a Chief Financial Officer walk into a coffee shop. The Chief Financial Officer says to the Superintendent “What if we spend all this money on professional development for our teachers and then they leave?” The Superintendent replies “What if we don’t and they stay?”   Tucson Unified School District is committed to providing ongoing professional development for teachers via in person, online and hybrid learning.  In order to be respectful and cognizant of everyone’s schedules, we have found this method allows both maximum flexibility and impact on achieving learning objectives. Simply put, teachers have the opportunity to pick and choose which single modality of professional development, or combination therof, best suits them. 

Future Ready Teaching and Learning

Meaningful collaboration across geographic barriers is an expectation in today’s digital workforce. In Tucson Unified School District, we have enabled each school to provide Office 365 accounts to all their students, enabling teachers to engage and provide feedback to students electronically. Another benefit is students can work individually or collaboratively with other students on group projects, problem solve and share their work totally online utilizing the same tools found in today’s workforce. We are also in the process of increasing the number of schools across our district that provides coding classes.  Over the last 3 years we have piloted coding classes resulting in an ever-increasing interest from the student population in coding. Key reasons for the increased interest are the engaging content and the ability to foster critical and computational thinking skills.

Digital Citizenship, ongoing, purposeful professional development and future ready teaching and learning can go a long way in ensuring continued success in school districts. These considerations are, and should always be independent of particular initiatives, and provide a framework with which to build upon. They should simply become part of the culture.

To illustrate how this framework can be applied, let’s take a look at one of our district initiatives as an example. In our implementation of Office 365 across the district, we utilized digital citizenship curriculum from Common Sense Media with students prior to them receiving their Office 365 accounts. We scaled across the district purposeful ongoing professional development for teachers and staff. We targeted the professional development to the particular audience rather than implement a one size fits all model. Lastly, our teachers and staff members who were early adopters unleashed the potential of the powerful learning tools within Office 365 and began sharing best practices with their colleagues. While it is still too early to determine the impact that our implementation of Office 365 has on student achievement, we have already seen instances of increased student engagement and attendance. We look forward to further progress as we continue utilizing this framework moving forward.

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