WFISD Takes Giant Steps in Technology
More than $1 million put to good use
For the 2016-2017 school year, WFISD has channeled more than $1 million into technology purchases, with most of them sent directly to the classrooms.
The District is playing catch-up compared to many other Texas districts with its Digital Classroom 2.0 Initiative, according to Superintendent Mike Kuhrt.
Most of the $829,000 in digital purchases for classrooms bought Chromebooks. The District spent $715,000 to buy 2,450 of them.
A Chromebook is a mini laptop that runs the Google Chrome operating system while connected to the Internet. Most of its apps and documents live in the cloud; the relatively inexpensive laptop starts at about $200.
The District spent another $49,000 on charging stations. Also purchased: $65,000 in GoGuardian software to safeguard students in their use of the Internet.
Classroom sets of devices are provided for students at all grade levels, but several grade levels enjoy one device for every student.
All fifth-graders now use their own district-owned laptops in classes. All sixth-graders check out their own laptops to use for their entire middle school careers. All students in the upper grades operate under a Bring Your Own Device strategy and make frequent use of technology throughout the day.
Another $210,000 of the initial $1.04 million technology monies bolstered the District hardware that undergirds the technology base.
Prior to investing money in the digital ramp-up, Mr. Kuhrt spearheaded a Digital Classroom Pilot Program. A team of 42 digitally progressive teachers experimented for one school year with classroom sets of Chromebooks, iPad Minis, and laptops.
The goal was to hone in on the best way to use technology to educate kids without succumbing to a simple but expensive buy-one-device-for-everybody strategy.
That pilot program, which cost $475,000, allowed teachers to experiment with the pros and cons of many devices. They were also able to judge which devices best fit the various age groups.
Teachers said they quickly became accustomed to having the devices in their classrooms and didn’t want to be without.
Chromebooks turned out to be a favorite device among teachers and students. Even the district’s youngest in pre-K and kindergarten were able to use its trackpads, ear buds and Google to do online searches.
The District no longer asks students to stow their cell phones or technology during the school day. In fact, Wichita Falls High School transformed its student center, filling it with charging stations and renaming it the Digital Lounge.
District administrators celebrated the District’s own digital advancement with a special Digital Learning Day in spring 2016. Teams of directors and administrators visited the district’s 42 most advanced technology classrooms and observed students and teachers using the equipment.
They reported enhanced engagement and exploration among the children. Children were nimble with the technology – and fascinated by it. They observed classrooms with group seating arrangements instead of rows. Children were publishing their work with the help of a variety of apps.