OUTLOOK: Cutting edge in the classroom

Five years ago Chilliwack school district lagged behind in technology, but now, it’s leading the pack.

This year

Five years ago Chilliwack school district lagged behind in technology, but now, it’s leading the pack.

Chilliwack schools used to be a mismatch of old bubble Macs, outdated PCs, and complex Linux operating systems.

There was no conformity. Most of the computer labs stayed black from inactivity.

The school district had two options: stay the course and risk producing technology illiterate students, or invest.

Invest in technology. Invest in students.

“Technology is all around us, and if we’re going to create literate citizens, that means more than just teaching kids how to read,” said Kirk Savage, director of instruction.

“If we’re going to prepare kids to be successful, we need to prepare them with the tools to be successful.”

Improving technology is one of four priorities listed in the school district’s five-year strategic plan.

This year, Chilliwack completed a three-year, $3 million technology infrastructure upgrade, which included 1,800 new computers, about 55 per school, to outfit labs and mobile laptop carts. All computers are uniform Lenovos on Windows 7.

As well, every school was equipped with fast wireless connections, secure computer servers, new wiring and access points, and ceiling-mounted projectors and speakers in classrooms.

“Every school in our district now has equal access; we don’t have have-not schools anymore,” said Savage.

Individual schools have also set aside funds in their budget for technology “extras” like iPod Touches, iPads, Apple TVs, document cameras, and specialized microphones to complement their lesson plans.

“We’re trying to arm teachers with the best resources available so they can do the best job for our students,” said Savage.

“Does technology directly improve achievement? There’s no test to determine that, but we believe it will.”

What it has done is open up new windows for opportunity.

Like, for instance, SharePoint 2013, an online, Microsoft sharing tool the school district purchased and customized to use for online collaboration between schools, administrators, teachers, and eventually students.

Unlike other online sharing platforms, where data is often stored in the United States, SharePoint’s data is all stored on the Chilliwack school district server.

“It’s secure, it’s in Canada, it didn’t cost gobs and gobs of money, or create FOIPA issues,” said Savage. “By having the infrastructure in place, we were able to create this reliable program in our sandbox and avoid reams and reams of legalese.”

The next step with SharePoint is to create virtual classrooms where students can communicate with their teacher and peers and access the day’s lessons and assignments from anywhere.

Savage believes Chilliwack is now a model other school districts should be following.

The way Chilliwack was in 2007, he said, is how most school districts in B.C. are today – 10 years behind.

“If we didn’t keep current, we’d be doing a disservice to our students; we wouldn’t be preparing them for the ever-changing world.”