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Sunday drivers of technology?

By AMIE SWOPE • May 31, 2018 at 12:00 PM

When I was a girl in the 1970s, my parents loved the Sunday drive. We would take to the roads in our 1973 Caprice Classic station wagon and drive all day.

Why? Because we could.

My era wasn’t the originator of the Sunday drive; the tradition began earlier when cars became available and accessible for people of all income levels. My parents would pick up my grandparents who lived on Woodlawn Avenue  and we’d go all over Ohio and sometimes surrounding states. We could spend a day just driving around, so we did. And we weren’t alone.

Are we in the Sunday drive phase of technology? Computers are available and accessible to nearly every person. Some of us have the Chevrolet, some the Tesla and some the Rolls-Royce, but nearly everyone has something.

The important question for me as an educator is this: Are we using computers just because we can, or are we being truly thoughtful and using technology to further the education of our students?

In the Norwalk City Schools district, our nearly 3,000 students have access to about 2,000 devices. In the elementary buildings, computer access is mostly through Chromebooks — an inexpensive laptop operating on the Google Chrome operating system.

As students move up in grade levels, their use of technology evolves. Students use tablets in their science classes and have Maker Space experiences using Windows-based laptops and software to design and build. They can use laser cutters, 3D printers and even join our robotics team, where they can design and build competition-grade robots.

As the director of technology for our district, I’m always being asked for more. More computers in the classroom, more subscriptions to educational technology sites, more training for teachers on using these devices and faster internet and wireless. My department works very hard to keep up equipment and keep up with demand because we’ve seen the results.

One of the best things about my job is visiting classrooms and seeing teachers in action. I was a high school teacher for 24 years before I took over the technology role for Norwalk City Schools, almost all of those years at Norwalk High School. I was already aware of the incredible work being done by high school teachers. Walking through Maplehurst, Pleasant and League elementary schools, Main Street and Norwalk Middle schools has opened my eyes to the dedication, versatility and professionalism of the entire district’s staff.

So far this year, I’ve spent a lot of taxpayer money. We added 300 Chromebooks in kindergarten though fourth grade as a measure to replace an aging fleet of the computers because we need updated machines in order to administer the state tests. We replaced teacher computers at Maplehurst to improve technology in that building. We built a new server that can host virtual desktops throughout the district. We are upgrading wireless connectivity in all buildings over the coming summer. It adds up to a substantial price tag, but our students are worth every penny.

My goal and my biggest challenge it to ensure teachers have the training and support to be able to seamlessly integrate the technology in their classrooms.

I’m not afraid to invest in technology and put it in the hands of our capable staff and excellent students because we’re not Sunday Drivers at Norwalk City Schools. We’re not using technology just because we can; we’re using it because we cannot afford not to.

Local columnist Amie Swope is the technology director for Norwalk City Schools.

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