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The Changing Classroom in Utah: Technology in Weber School District – From Chalkboards to Chromebooks

Ogden, UT (November 12, 2019)– Alyssa Boydston is your typical sixth-grader. She attends Lomond View Elementary School located in Pleasant View and is really into sports. Boydston wants to be either a soccer player or engineer when she grows up, and she’s super excited about the upcoming sixth-grade dance—a 1950s-themed event.

Boydston also has never known school without technology in the classroom.

“It’s always been there, but this year we each got our own Chromebooks, so that’s a new thing,” she said. Alyssa Helps A Student 220x300“Before, we’d only get them once or twice a week and only for a certain period of time and had to share them with others.”

Boydston is one of Alan Rhees’ star students. He teaches sixth grade at the very school he attended as a child.

“That was 34 years ago, when we did everything with paper and a pencil, and our teachers used chalk and chalkboards,” Rhees said. “Now, we don’t even have chalkboards in our classrooms at Lomond View.”

The school uses smart boards that are already being phased out to make way for smart monitors—essentially touch-screen televisions with no projectors—and the entire district is moving to what’s called 1-to-1 with Chromebooks. That simply means every student would have their own dedicated device.

Lynn Raymond is Weber County School District’s Director of Technology. The district offices are located in Ogden, where Raymond oversees efforts to move schools into this new territory.

“When I came into the district, the computers were basically centered around the teacher having the tech and then using that technology to engage students in terms of PowerPoints, presentations, those types of things,” he said. “That’s now changed dramatically. The tech is now integrated within student learning. Students are also able to use it to individualize their instruction. They can work from home and access resources to continue their education even after school hours.”

Raymond taught human physiology and anatomy before moving into administrative roles. His experience has helped him understand how to integrate new tech into the classroom setting.

Alyssa Boydston And Her Teacher Alan Rhees 300x255“We also looked at other districts that were having success or failure,” he said. “We quickly learned that you can’t just give the students Chromebooks, but you have to also provide teachers support. So, six months before we started distributing Chromebooks, tech services worked with the curriculum department to prepare and train teachers.”

The Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN), in partnership with the nonprofit Connected Nation, is in the midst of doing an inventory of technology within all of Utah’s public and charter schools—including Weber County.

“UETN has been phenomenal in working with us on getting our schools prepared so every student has a device that’s monitored by our system, even when they are off campus,” Raymond said. “Essentially, our partnership with UETN has helped us work through the challenges and opportunities of expanding technology. At the same time, the UETN inventory gives us an important snapshot of our district and how it compares to others—which is especially important for parents. They’ll be able to see what the classroom looks like and what type of learning their children will be involved in here.”

In 2015, UETN began tracking how technology is used in the classroom and the access teachers and students have to digital materials, devices and platforms. Data from another inventory was released in 2018.

“Last year, following our second statewide inventory, we learned the number of classrooms connected through digital teaching and learning had risen thanks to increased distribution of computer devices and newer wireless gear,” said Ray Timothy, CEO of UETN. “However, we also found that more work was needed to connect every student to key technologies that will prepare them for an increasingly digital world.”

That’s made it possible for students and teachers to explore learning in new and even more effective ways.

“Tomorrow, we get to actually go inside Alcatraz on a VR [virtual reality] field trip,” said Rhees. “We’re also exploring new methods of learning using images and group reviews. One of the best things about the devices is that I know instantly how a student is doing on an assignment or test and can provide immediateAlyssa At Work In Class 225x300 feedback. It makes learning more interactive and effective.”

Lomond View Elementary students typically spend about a third of the school day using the devices. They’ll complete digital modules in math or language arts or other subjects. They also work on improving their keyboarding skills and doing group lessons.

It feels like we’re a team, but rather than a race to win, it’s a race to get the best answer,” said sixth-grader Boydston. “I think it’s really fun having your own Chromebook because it’s more tech in the classroom and stuff, and it’s easier than writing everything down on paper. Plus, if we have spare time, we get to go to Nearpod. I like to work on new math problems.”

Nearpod is a student-engagement platform that schools can leverage. It provides ready-to-run, interactive lessons for grades K-12. They include multiple-choice questions and problems that can be solved by drawing out or diagramming an answer.

It’s just one of many ways technology is transforming instruction in classrooms across Utah.

“I think tech is going to change even more than we realize,” Rhees said. “Right now, we still have some limitations on access or how we can use the devices. I think augmented reality—where students can actually see a place through headsets—are going to enter our classrooms more and more. We’ll still have textbooks and interact with students one-on-one because it will always be important to engage in that way, but there will eventually be a new balance between technology and traditional teaching.”

Rhees Instructs A Student 225x300Raymond agrees. As he and his staff look toward the future, they already see a horizon that’s limitless.

“We’re already working with 3D printers and have elementary students actually designing and working it,” he said. “Drones, artificial intelligence, augmented reality—there’s so much ahead of us. Now, we’re working on writing a new program with Google to track technology in a different way than ever before so we can see how tech is being used by teachers and students and look to what’s next.”

Next week we continue our month-long series “The Changing Classroom in Utah.” We’ll sit down with Alpine School District’s Administrator of Technology Services who explains how the schools of today must be vastly different than even just 10 years ago and what that means for teachers and students.

Meanwhile, check out last week’s story from Beaver County

Why School Technology Inventory Matters