(TNS) — CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Digital education is officially a priority in Wyoming.
The state Department of Education on Tuesday announced that it is launching a statewide Future Ready Initiative, through Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C.
Laurel Ballard, the department's student and teacher resources team supervisor, said, "One of the major commitments that we make is that we will put together a strategic plan around digital learning. By joining this, what it's going to allow us to do is provide us access to resources and professional development at the state level, as well as at the district level."
She said those resources will help teachers develop online courses, help school districts integrate technology into classrooms, and help teachers use the technology to personalize students' educational experiences.
"It's going to assist with meeting those educational needs. Everybody has something that may be a little bit different that they need," Ballard said.
The program is set up around seven key areas:
* Curriculum, instruction and assessment
* Use of space and time
* Robust infrastructure
* Data and privacy
* Community partnerships
* Personalized professional learning
* Budget and resources
Ballard said these areas will be used as a framework for the digital learning strategic plan that the state will use for the next five years.
Kari Eakins, communications director for the Department of Education, said nine of the state's 48 school districts have signed on to the initiative. She noted that it isn't mandatory.
Those nine districts are in Big Horn, Fremont, Sublette, Teton, Uinta and Weston counties.
Teachers and administrators in those districts will have access to the Future Ready Schools Hub, which is where they can access all the additional training and resources, Ballard said.
"The districts that have taken the pledge, a lot of them use a lot of personalized instruction or blended learning, where they use resources online. You have a wide variety of skills in a classroom. Districts are starting to move so they can really be able to simultaneously be able to meet the needs of high-end achievers, as well as students that may be struggling," she said.
Those districts also use technology to better engage students, she said. "Instead of reading about World War II, there are resources out there that really let them play with what it was like."
Eakins said even rural districts will not have problems incorporating more technology into classrooms because of Gov. Matt Mead's Unified Network that provided high-speed internet to every district across the state.
She added that they've already seen technology used well in both small and large school districts across the state.
"Access to technology has become less of an issue in Wyoming. How to utilize it well is the bigger issue," Eakins said.
The Wyoming Department of Education also is working on a plan to expand distance learning across the state. That plan is based in virtual education. Ballard said she expects that plan to be released in October.
"The benefits received from (digital learning) are important, and we need to spend some time and effort focusing on it," she said.
©2016 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne, Wyo.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.