Last week, the Tullahoma City School District hosted a Google Leadership Symposium, welcoming school officials from throughout the state to demonstrate how local schools are making technology part of the educational experience.
The event was the first of its kind in the State of Tennessee.
Approximately 100 educators spent the day last Thursday hearing local school officials explain how technology is allowing the district to prepare students for the working world and ensuring that teachers are using the most up-to-date information in their lesson plans.
The visitors also had the opportunity to see those practices in action, when they broke into smaller groups and visited classrooms throughout the district.
Director of Schools Dr. Dan Lawson said being asked to host the event by Google is, “a feather in the cap of our community and it represents our staff and school system very, very well.”
In recent years, Tullahoma City Schools officials have made a concerted effort to incorporate technology into all grade levels. The district is in the midst of phasing in a one-to-one laptop program, through which every student who does not have a device of his or her own will be provided with a Chromebook. The program began last year at the elementary school level, and ninth-graders at Tullahoma High School are expected to receive their Chromebooks this spring. District teachers have also taken on the task of writing their own electronic textbooks by gathering information from a wide variety of copyright-free open source resources.
“Technology is merely a tool to prepare students for 21st century digital literacy skills, and to help equalize access across a community; implementing it in a way that will impact results is key,” said Google’s Jessica Reeves. “We applaud Tullahoma City Schools and all participating districts in this Leadership Symposium for planning for the future, for their open, collaborative spirit, and their focus on students.”
In his keynote address on Thursday morning, Lawson said that although school officials here are moving rapidly to get technology into students’ hands, “we don’t pretend to be experts.” He added that the effort is collaborative, requiring the effort, energy and talents of individuals throughout the school system.
Tullahoma is not focusing so much attention on technology for its own sake, the superintendent said, but rather is aiming to get students accustomed to how they will be expected to use it in college and beyond.
“We think it’s a shame that we have kids who leave here and move on to online courses and in the past we haven’t done that here,” Lawson said.
To implement the new approach, the district has reallocated resources, including money previously used to purchase textbooks, to compensate teachers for writing the open source textbooks and to purchase the Chromebooks.
“We have seen a substantial change in our spending on printed texts,” he said. “We don’t expect to see print disappear, but we are reallocating our resources.”
Although the district has decided that Chromebooks, a Google product, is the right fit for Tullahoma at the present time, Lawson said officials here are not married to a specific product or software package. In fact, students who have their own laptops are permitted to use those instead of the district-provided Chromebooks.
“We’re not inclined to believe that there’s one path to accomplish what we want to do,” Lawson said.
The district’s vision for incorporating digital content into the classroom doesn’t end at the city limits.
“We have created digital materials with the expectation that they are going to be used and improved by others,” Lawson said.
The more school districts that create and share their own open source materials, the more everyone can benefit, he said. Lawson added that open source content does not necessarily have to be delivered to students in a digital format. There is also the option of using copyright-free material to compile a textbook and having that book reproduced at a copy center like Kinko’s.
“Instead of a $79.01 textbook, which is the average, you’ve spent $7,” Lawson said.
Lawson said this week that the event went well, and may pay dividends in the future.
“We are very happy with being selected to host the Google Leadership Symposium and prouder still of the tools that our teachers provide our students on a daily basis,” Lawson said. “The feedback from the meeting has been overwhelmingly positive and we have had several schools and teachers interested in digital delivery of open source educational resources make contact to implement similar programs in their schools.”
Andrea Agardy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.