Assuring ‘No child left offline’

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson created the Education Technology Task Force to update the technology standards in California’s K-12 schools.

The task force brings 48 volunteers — teachers, technology directors, school board members and superintendents — from throughout the state together to write a new technology plan. It has four subcommittees: Teaching, learning, assessment and infrastructure.

“We were very careful to get a balance so that … we had everyone’s voice represented,” said Barbara Ross, a special project consultant for the California Department of Education (CDE).

The comprehensive, 14 to 15-month-long process will “revise the technology plan for K-12 schools” in the state, Ross said.

Torlakson appointed the task force members March 17 and the members had their first meeting March 20 at the CDE. Only four of the volunteers were unable to attend the meeting, Ross said.

The new plan will conform to Obama’s 2010 National Education Technology Plan, which has the goals of raising the proportion of college graduates from 41 percent to 60 percent by 2020 and closing the achievement gap so all students graduating are prepared for life.

It will focus on gaps between California’s current technology infrastructure and the desired future infrastructure, equity of Internet access for schools and use of e-readers and tablets in the classroom.

“Six years ago we didn’t even have iPads, and so (the education landscape) drastically changed,” said Bill Selak, a music teacher at Covina Valley Unified School District and adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University and the University of La Verne.

Selak, who is in the task force’s teaching subgroup, said he is pleased that the directive for more technology in the classroom came from the top down.

There is a divide. Only some teachers are using technology in the classroom today, he said.

He is involved in Edcamp, a professional development meeting for teachers to integrate technology into the classroom and recently led a session about using Apple iBooks Author to create class textbooks.

Last year, Selak lent his iPad to a student in his band to use Percussive, an app that allows a user to play eight different percussion instruments, during their concerts.

“I plugged that into a little keyboard amp for all of our concerts (and) she actually played my iPad and it sounded like a really good marimba,” he said.

Playing the iPad also improved the student’s self-confidence, he said.

“So instead of, ‘Oh, you play the xylophone,’ it was, ‘You get to play the iPad! That’s amazing!’” Selak said.

Selak uploads music he records on Garage Band to the class website, K5tunes.com, so students can practice outside of class.

“They can actually learn it on their own … and then when they come in with me, the conversation isn’t, ‘How does this go?’ The conversation is, ‘I’m stuck on this one part of it.’ We’re able to move a lot quicker,” Selak said.

Robert Craven, director of technology and media services at the Fullerton School District (FSD), wants to give students more chances for mobile and online learning.

“There’s a great argument to be made that (mobile and online learning) is the future and direction that things are going,” said Craven, who is in the task force’s learning subgroup.

One school in the FSD, Robert C. Fisler School, already has a one-to-one laptop program, where every student is given a laptop to use in the classroom.

Every classroom at the 2nd-to-8th grade school has a Promethean Board and every building has its own iPod Touch cart, according to the school’s website.

Craven said data from classes that used mobile devices in the Saddleback Valley School District found that the classes scored better on California State Testing (CST) tests, had increased attendance and honor rolls and decreased disciplinary issues.

“I think once the kids get out of that, ‘Wow’ or, ‘It’s neat’ factor, what you begin to hear from them is … ‘It’s helping me learn better,’” Craven said.

Selak said that many people think technology is in the future, but the tools are available today.

“(Technology) is becoming mandatory, it’s not going to be a footnote in the classroom (anymore),” he said.

The task force’s next meeting is in May and the group will present its findings to Torlakson by July 1.

Teachers, parents and students are urged to share their opinions on the group’s public forum, CommetEdTech.myboe.org, Ross said.

Esther Wojcicki, a Palo Alto teacher, Creative Commons Board of Directors member and journalist, is also one of the task force volunteers.

“Motto of the future should be ‘No child left offline in the classroom,’” she posted on Twitter.

About Tim Worden

Tim is a senior journalism major at Cal State Fullerton and is serving his second semester as copy editor for the Daily Titan. He plans on becoming a reporter and copy editor after graduating in May. In his free time, he enjoys reading.