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County Student Advisory Council sets spring agenda
20140110-Computer Classroom
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by Tim Shea | Friday, January 10, 2014 at 5:56 p.m.

The County Student Advisory Council told the Albemarle School Board Thursday that they’re concerned with how technology is being integrated into classrooms.

“Perhaps the debate here is how we strike a balance between the quality of integration and the quantity of integration,” Western Albemarle High School junior Tim Dodson said.

The negative impact an over-reliance on devices can have on student-teacher relationships topped the council’s list.

“As the County places more of an emphasis on technology, perhaps they lose a little bit of the human connection involved with that, because even though students spend a lot of time in front of screens…students also need that personal time with teachers to learn concepts and reinforce concepts, because technology can only do so much,” Dodson said.

Albemarle Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun likened devices to a new teaching tool instructors can use to individualize instruction—a skill, Haun said, that has always been essential to quality teaching.

“Ten years ago I couldn’t teach you a lick if I didn’t have a personal relationship with you,” Haun said. “I had to know you’re learning style, your interests, your background knowledge, and that hasn’t changed one bit.”

“Let’s say we’re talking about geometry and you have an interest in being a contractor,” Haun said. “I can send you to a source where you would learn something about surveying, about angles, about building houses or a pitch on a roof.”

But Ann Yu, a senior at Albemarle High School, said some classes come across as a teacher experimenting with technology, and the device replaces the instructor.

Vince Scheivert, Albemarle’s Chief Information Officer, said the overarching issue is the changing landscape of how new resources come into the classroom.

“Forever it’s been the textbooks or whatever periodicals the teacher may have accumulated. Today that’s not it,” Scheivert said. “What Dr. Haun’s team is working really hard on is how we start that conversion away from old school textbooks to digital rich media that enhances things.”

Haun said the challenge has been that, until now, the County has lacked widespread digital curriculum. As a result, Haun said, teachers have been left to simultaneously learn the technology, develop digital curriculum, and teach.   

“As we went out there and did some of these early projects, the teachers were on their own to develop their own curriculum,” Haun said. “You might have the greatest Shakespeare unit in the world, but you can’t just bring in laptops and say ‘I’m going to teach this using digital now.’ That’s not how it works.”

To address both curriculum and teacher-readiness, Haun and Scheivert have been distributing surveys to gauge how prepared teachers are for a roll out of a one-to-one technology initiative throughout the division.

“How to teach with technology, and the curriculum you use to teach with technology, are different, and I think that’s the part you hear the kids talking about, because these teachers have sort of been out there on their own at this point,” Haun said. “But part of that readiness survey is asking at the Central Office level if we have curriculum that’s ready to help the teachers.”

This pleases AHS senior Ryann Murray, who said some teachers could have a better understanding of the devices available to them.

“When you have a teacher setting up their courses through websites,” Murray said, “you don’t want them guessing how to use it.”

Monticello High School is currently implementing a one-to-one technology initiative. Last fall the school provided each 9th grader with a laptop, and plans to introduce laptops to incoming 9th graders until all students have them.

Principal Jesse Turner said the division’s decision to introduce the devices slowly has allowed the school to troubleshoot many issues that could have grown in scope.

COURSE GRADING

The CSAC also said that they would like to continue discussion of how grades are weighted—and thus GPAs calculated—and asked the Board if they would open to the conversation.

“The worry,” Dodson said, “is that the current system discourages students from pursuing their interests and passions.”

“It’s encouraged to take fine arts courses, but that lowers your GPA, and so students who take fine arts credits are ranked lower,” Yu said. “It’s almost unfair that they’re ranked lower because they took a credit that was encouraged and it lowered their GPA.”

Board member Eric Strucko supported the Council’s move.

“We shouldn’t have anything on the transcript that is an anomaly,” Strucko said. “I think we can do something about it to adjust the weighting so it’s no longer an anomaly, and so students aren’t penalized for taking an unweighted course.”

Board member Steve Koleszar said that while the Board voted not to pursue the issue, it was not because they thought it unimportant, but rather that there were higher priority issues that would have a bigger effect on improving student learning.”

Additionally, Koleszar encouraged the Council to pursue what interests them.

“Part of your role is to respond to what the Board wants, and the information that we think is important, but we also want you to be independent and be able to say ‘You’re wrong on this,’” Koleszar said. “Your recommendation as to whatever you think is important has value in and of itself, and it’s part of your role.”

Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran suggested forming a council subcommittee that looks at how students are graded.

“One of the things that’s on my mind—and I had a student go through Albemarle County Public Schools a few years ago—was how much disparity there was in the ways that sometimes things got graded,” Moran said. “Maybe with a rubric, maybe on a 100 point scale, there are lots of different ways that people approach getting you to the grade that eventually becomes part of a final GPA.”

“I would be very interested, if you guys were interested in looking at the bigger picture,” Moran added, “of even starting to talk a little bit about what would make sense if we were looking at some very effective practices for assessing, and turning that into a grade, which eventually becomes a GPA.”

After months of integration into school board discussions, the council is pleased with the progress.

“It’s nice to know that they’re on board with building a constructive relationship with us, especially as we’ve become more of an established group,” Dodson said. “I think this will only continue to get better moving forward.”

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