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Tech gets savvy

By Denebola
Published: October 2007
By Sidrah BalochShelley Chamberlain, the Director of Information Technology, established the Technology Advisory Committee (TAC) in the fall of 2006 to address concerns about the aging technology in the Newton Public Schools.
The committee, made up of teachers, administrators, and parents, strives to combine the interests, values, and technological expertise of Newton community members and educators in order to form and implement plans to impr
ove the quality of technology in schools. The TAC is also responsible for advocating up to date infrastructure, including networks, computers, and software.
The TAC is composed of six subcommittees: Computing Models, Emerging Technologies, Funding and Partnerships, Public Relations, Technology Integration, and Universal Design For Learning. Members of all six subcommittees recently collaborated to develop a 3 year Technology Plan for 2008 to 2011. The plan will be presented to the School Committee in January 2008.
Last spring, Newton Public Schools were evaluated in an Instructional Technology Audit conducted under the direction of the TAC and Department of Information Technology. The key findings of this evaluation helped committee members to formulate eight recommendations to improve technology in schools.
According to the Audit, “21st century skills are necessary to prepare students for STEM professions’€jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These tools are different from skills that students learned ten years ago, and include problem-solving, thinking outside the box, collecting and analyzing information from a number of different sources, and working together with others from diverse backgrounds.
The TAC recommends that technology in the Newton Public School System support these “21st century skills in order to help students think critically and make connections in the future.
The Tech Audit also revealed that although most teachers have ideas of how they would like to integrate technology into the curriculum, the infrastructure of Newton Public Schools is not strong enough to support all of them.
The TAC believes that the Newton Public Schools should provide teachers with up-to-date hardware and software, new and emerging technologies, and collaborative tools. Their plan states that technology should be based on curricular needs and should be incorporated into curricula as they are created.
The TAC also suggested new strategies for adoption of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Using ideas from the UDL will make curricular materials more flexible through technology such as digital textbooks.
Currently, PTSO funds and grants are the main source of money used to buy and replace student computers. The TAC believes that in order to maintain a strong technology initiative, technology should be funded not only by the operating budget, but also by a variety of other means.
The resources, however, must be divided equally among the 21 Newton Public Schools. Additional funding is also necessary to create a yearly replacement cycle for out-of-date computers.
Other results from the Instructional Technology Audit caused the Committee to recommend that the Newton Public Schools train their staff and faculty to use school technology to its fullest potential and increase communication about technological advances between the schools and general public.

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