School administration say the past few years have seen impressive growth to the implementation and effectiveness of technology in Darien classrooms. But with every techno leap forward, comes a budgetary challenge.
"As far as our technology is concerned, I think we're in a good place," said Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Judith Pandolfo. "The challenge going forward, especially with budget constraints, is going to be maintaining quality of the equipment."
Pandolfo's technology report presented to the Board of Education last December highlighted a number of outcomes—all positive—of the district's investment in technological advancement. The board's new challenge, Pandolfo said, would be securing the fnds to maintain that level of quality and advancement.
She was right.
Budget season saw the board wrestle with a difficult proposition to cut the entire $218,000 technology budget for the coming year. That cut has since been reduced to $33,000—a decision made in the interest of supporting the district's touted technology plan.
Pandolfo will present a progress report on those goals outlined in the 2009-2012 technology plan this Tuesday, Feb. 23. Her December report emphasized the success of the plan to date.
The 2006-2009 Darien Technology Plan targeted the middle and elementary schools and focused on providing presentations systems in all classrooms, initiating extensive professional development and hooking up schools to wireless internet access.
Elementary schools aren't yet wireless; budgetary constraints continue to postpone that component of the plan. But for the most part, Pandolfo said all goals were met and the plan exceeded expectations.
"We just are continually amazed by how quickly teaching staff in this district have moved forward with their use of technology," said Pandolfo.
The notion that one teacher's use of technology in the classroom can prompt teachers throughout the district to follow suit is referred to as the "raindrop effect."
"That word of mouth and demonstration from teacher to teacher is very powerful," said Pandolfo, "Some of the most powerful professional development comes from teachers themselves."
Instructional Technology Specialist Luke Forshaw said that the raindrop effect not only speaks highly of Darien teachers but also helps maintain an even level of technology access across Darien schools.
"The idea that a teacher can start with an idea that becomes a community standard allows for students to have equitable access for best-practice instruction," said Forshaw.
Darien teachers' use of Wikis serves as a prime example, he said. What began as one teacher's desire to create a science-class website soon became a "community standard."
Among the general public, the best-known Wiki is probably Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia created by user input, but Wikis are used for many other purposes. And the flexibility of a Wiki site makes online multimedia collaborations among teachers and students easy, said Forshaw.
Most recently, the K-5 Social Studies Curriculum Committee said they relied largely on a group Wiki to exchange ideas throughout the curriculum development process; that Wiki will be adapted for future with students throughout the district.
But where it's easy to see that teachers are taking advantage of technology in the classroom, gauging students' level of cognitive demand is perhaps more challenging.
"It's an elusive characteristic," said Pandolfo. "We talk about it all the time, and a lot of time that sharing gives you the sense of the areas of demand."
Still the greatest challenge the future brings is funding. Where advancing technology is undoubtedly expensive, just maintaining the programs and systems already in place incurs huge district costs.
"As we move forward into the new plan, what we're going to have to keep an eye on is keeping technology at a level that can maintain everyone's ability," said Pandolfo.
Pandolfo will address the new plan at the Board of Education's regular meeting Tuesday, Feb.23.