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A Look at Education Technology Adoption in Connecticut

Connecticut school districts continue to invest in education technology at the same or higher levels.

by Linda Conner Lambeck, Connecticut Post, Bridgeport / September 6, 2016
Students in a Texas school district will be able to interact more with their learning thanks to a little push from audit results. Kevin Jarrett, Flickr CC by 2.0

(TNS) — If the power were to go out in schools across the region, not a lot would get done in today's classrooms.

From the devices students work on to the way teachers present material, record grades and keep parents informed -- everything is done on computer. From Westport to Milford and Bridgeport to Seymour, a one computer-to-one student ratio -- or close to it -- is becoming the norm.

"It's not a normal day if you go into a classroom and don't see a Smart Board in use," Trumbull Schools Superintendent Gary Cialfi said.

David St. Germain, the supervisor of media and instructional technology in Milford, agreed.

"I think it would be difficult to teach without it," St. Germain said. "Somethings, sure, but this is what people are using in real life. Kids need to be able to use these tools."

The norm

While budgets are being cut in other places, funds spent on technology equipment, staff and training are either holding fairly steady or even increasing, according to a review of many local school budgets for 2016-17.

That mirrors what is happening nationwide. A national study out in 2015 by a group called EdNET Insight, found spending on educational technology is continuing to rise despite budget cuts in other areas. The increase is not just for equipment and support but also teacher training. Not all of it comes from general budget.

In Connecticut, two waves of state grants totaling $34.9 million gave districts funding to bolster their supply of computers and Internet bandwidth.

The upgrade was necessary to give the state standardized test -- which is computerized -- to 234,000 students within a short period of time

Beyond that, Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell said the technology prepares youngster for the future.

Wentzell was teaching in 2002 when chalk boards were first giving way to interactive whiteboards.

"I had some initial anxiety about it," Wentzell said. But she realized it made learning more fun.

Many say that what matters most about technology is not the kind being used, but rather having teachers who know how to use it. As such, dollars also get poured into training.

Doing the math

Even in cash-strapped Bridgeport, close to $2 million will be spent on technology from its operating budget this school year. Another $705,000 will be spent from several state and competitive grants, according to Marlene Siegel, the district's finance director.

On top of that, Bridgeport is getting about $1.6 million in 2016-17 from the federal E-rate program to cover fiber technology and internet access. The year before that it got $2.5 million through the E-rate program.

The district of some 21,000 students will have about 14,000 Chromebooks --small, lightweight laptops put out by Google -- this fall. Most Chromebooks come 30 to a chargeable cart. On top of that, there are said to be 8,000 tablets, laptops and desktop computers, for nearly a one to one ratio.

Erik Haakonsen, chief technology officer in Bridgeport, said the district is also moving to increase speed, reliability and access by increasing computer data storage capacity tenfold, adding more than 1,400 additional wireless access points and replacing 500 switches that allow computers to talk to the internet.

"We need a solid foundation. Something people can count on every day," Haakonsen said.

St. Germain, of Milford, agreed.

"If its not reliable, the staff wont use it," St. Germain said.

Ansonia, a school district of about 2,200 students, acquired 7 new carts over the summer, giving it an inventory of 1,800 Chromebooks.

Shelton has about 1,100 desktops, 1,000 laptops, 1,500 Chromebooks and 600 Chromeboxes, Daniel DeVito, director of technology in Shelton said.

In the Easton, Redding, Region 9 school districts have Smart Boards in every classroom, and carts of Chromebooks in each elementary school that teachers share, Thomas McMorran, superintendent of all three districts, said.

"About 2 or 3 percent of each year's budget goes to maintaining the technology," McMorran said.

In Trumbull, Monroe and a number of other districts, there is a Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) practice that allows students to bring smartphones or tablets from home with teacher permission for more in-depth learning experience.

Central to learning

"Every day," Jill Silvestro, a second grade teacher at Fawn Hill Elementary School said of her use of her classroom Smart Board. "I rely on it and the kids do too."

She is not sure what she would do if it stopped working. The blackboard on the opposite side of her classroom is used as a bulletin board to post student work.

Jessica Warnken, a third grade teacher at Hooker School in Bridgeport, said if she is doing a unit on Helen Keller, she can follow up the lesson of the blind and death American author and political activist by showing a video of her on her Smart Board screen.

"For research, for science projects, writing, we use it every day," Warnken said.

Bridgeport also has students reading books, thousands of them, on a software program called myON.

"The initial drive was for testing," Vincent Pastore, Ansonia director of technology, said of the Chromebook infusion. "But the more teachers use them, the more uses they have found for them."

Ansonia is among districts that is starting to convert all their documents to a Google Docs system, because it is interactive, and free.

With it, students can turn in assignments, teachers can grade online, and give parents access so they know how their child is doing.

Parents like Ava Sokolovic, of Bridgeport, meanwhile, say technology is useful, but should not replace textbooks.

"Texts and online resources must coexist," she said, adding what she really would like to see is technology integrated throughout the curriculum especially in the area of science.

"No microscope? There's an app for that," Sokolovic said. "No frogs to dissect? There's an app for that, too."

©2016 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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