Jul 22nd 2016 | Posted in Education by J Lyn Carl

While some public schools strive for 1-to-1 technology in their classrooms, where every student is issued a computer device for use at school and at home, the Round Rock Independent School District is instead focusing on integrating instructional technology in developing “next-generation classrooms.”

The result of Round Rock ISD’s experiment with classroom technology is its Next Generation Digital Classroom three-year pilot program. The program will enter its third year with the 2016-2017 school year.

Photo: Round Rock Independent School District

Photo: Round Rock Independent School District

Yesterday’s classrooms with textbooks, chalkboards and overhead projectors are a thing of the past, thanks to today’s cutting-edge technology that is expanding and adding more classroom capabilities every day. Round Rock ISD is taking advantage of that technology. To build the foundation of its new NextGen classrooms, the district chose as participants in the program teachers (dubbed “Trailblazers”) who were ready to embrace technology in the classroom, according to Lannon Heflin (pictured), the district’s Director of Instructional Technology.

The purpose of the three-year pilot is to use mobile/tablet technology to enhance the classroom teaching and learning experience. Different uses for various technology are being studied that will set the stage for what NextGen classrooms will look like in the district in the future. The determinations of the educational impact that these technologies have on classroom instruction will help the district determine what works best for Round Rock ISD.

Teachers who applied were not awarded NextGen classrooms so much because they were “techies” who understand and are highly experienced in the use of technology. They were simply “great teachers,” as Heflin called them, who excelled in the classroom showing skills in time management, finding ways to motivate students, keep them engaged and help them prepare for college and the workplace of the future. And those “great” teachers stood behind the district’s efforts to bring effective technology into the classroom. Even if they were not particularly experienced with certain technologies, once the teachers were chosen and the classrooms awarded, Heflin said they were provided professional development on a daily basis – through seminars, cohort groups and other support.

The expectation is that the Trailblazers, who, as Heflin described them, are “leading edge with no fear” might influence other teachers who are “actively resistant” to taking ownership of a NextGen classroom. He said their attitude becomes, “If there is someone else who proves it will work for me, I might try it.”

Research has shown that young people react positively to technology. They are a mobile generation and technology will always be a part of their lives. Educators recognize that those students must master the use of that technology to be able to compete in tomorrow’s workforce. So Round Rock set its eye on reinventing classrooms that incorporate the use of technology to encourage what program participants call the Four Cs – critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. The program has become successful with the help of the Trailblazers, 82 percent of whom indicated in a survey that using technology is the best way to achieve instructional objectives.

While learning activities are captivating and game-like for students in the NextGen classroom, they foster better student-teacher-parent communication, create a paperless environment and increase the students’ digital skills.

The pilot program did not come about by accident or by chance. Because so many of the district’s students have parents who are involved in the high-tech industry that is an integral part of the Round Rock community, there was already a demand for something innovative in local classrooms, said Heflin. In a district that for years had only one operating system with desktops and laptops, the pilot was intended to introduce mobile tablet technologies into the learning space – in both classrooms and libraries – to expand technology capabilities that would positively affect the learning experience for both teachers and students.

The tablet approach was decided after the district undertook a year’s worth of research involving input from both students and teachers to decide what kind of mobile device would be used in the NextGen classrooms and would best serve the district’s needs. The plan for the pilot was for the first year to create one NextGen classroom at each of the district’s 51 campuses and 15 district libraries. The second-year plan was to add 75 more NextGen classes. And for the final year, which will end in May 2017, teachers will apply for the classrooms in pairs, in anticipation of sharing the technology so that even more students can be exposed to instructional technology in a NextGen classroom.

Technology is engaging students in the Round Rock ISD and the impact that technology is having in the classrooms is helping the district determine how to get the most return on its digital investments as it relates to student success. And, the program is becoming a national model. Heflin said there is a “steady parade” of visiting school district officials who visit Round Rock ISD to observe its NextGen classrooms. They can see first-hand how the district focuses on the classroom rather than the individual. Those visitors are most interested, he said, in a “responsible rollout” of such a program, with a scale “at a rate of change that their organization can tolerate.”

In the end, the pilot program will give Round Rock ISD officials a better idea of where the district’s technology dollars should be spent and how that technology should be integrated into the classroom. It will also provide the groundwork for professional development and teacher support in a NextGen program that has its focus on the classroom rather than the individual and where the opportunity exists for using technology as a teaching tool.

 

J Lyn Carl

J. Lyn Carl is a Contributing Writer at Strategic Partnerships, Inc. and a former editor of the firm’s two weekly newsletters, Texas Government Insider and Government Contracting Pipeline. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience working as a reporter, editor and photographer at several Texas newspapers.