‘The pandemic in this case was a blessing’: Washington County schools use technology to bolster outcomes

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ST. GEORGE — Tony Campbell, director of learning technologies for Washington County School District, believes technology plays a pivotal role in the way students learn — both in and out of the classroom.

“In Washington County School District, we measure student achievement in the broader sense of learning, attitude and behavior,” he said. “When we examine learning in this broader context, we can clearly identify what we can do to fulfil our purpose of educating our students. Technology provides tools and resources to help us increase our effectiveness, efficiency, and equity in fulfilling this purpose.”

The Utah Education and Telehealth Network, in partnership with the nonprofit Connected Nation, is in the midst of doing a technology inventory within Utah’s public and charter schools. The Washington County School District is taking part in that inventory, which Campbell said has helped school officials to better identify the tools and resources they have and where those resources are.

In 2015, Utah Education and Telehealth Network began tracking how technology is used in the classroom, as well as the access teachers and students have to digital materials, devices and platforms. Data from the most recent inventory was released in 2020.

Washington County School District is participating in the technology inventory to get a better understanding of how its tech resources are used and how they are benefiting students.

Tech in the classroom

Schools in the district use technology on a daily basis during their regular classroom activities. Linda Brown, computer science coordinator for the Washington County School District, has over 25 years’ experience teaching students computer skills and how to apply those skills to their school work.

“We use learning management systems like Schoology and Canvas, which have been amazing for our students and our teachers,” she said. “As a teacher in the days before we had those systems, I was trying to juggle so many files that were all digital. Now, teachers can organize their digital lesson plan content inside of the learning management system, making instructional content delivery seamless and easier for students and teachers.”

Computer lab at the Vista School in Ivins, Utah, Nov. 16, 2020 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

In addition, many students are using video and coding applications to learn in different ways within the classroom.

“We have hybrid instruction in the form of video,” Brown said. “The benefit of having video-based instruction is that students can re-watch the instructions multiple times. So, when they get home to do their homework, if they’ve forgotten something, they can go back and look at it again.”

Teachers also use screen-sharing software so students can work alongside them.

“We have the ability for teachers to type code on their screens and display what they are typing onto students’ screens at the same time,” she said. “This allows the students to mimic what their teachers are doing.”

While all these tech applications have been very valuable, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that the true benefit of incorporating technology into everyday curriculum became clear — when schools had few other options but to go virtual.

Remote learning during COVID

Travis Wilstead is the principal of Majestic Fields Elementary. Like many other administrators, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation, he had to adjust to the new concept of remote learning.

Stock image | Photo by Sasha_Suzi/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“When COVID hit, we were forced to do things we were uncomfortable with,” he said. “Everybody is uncomfortable being recorded or being on camera, but we didn’t have a choice. In order to keep the kids engaged, they had to see us. It also required us to learn how to do professional development in the same way we were asking the teachers to teach because we could not meet in person.”

Laura Belnap, director of online education at Washington County School District, also saw how this challenging situation could benefit the faculty and students.

“The pandemic in this case was a blessing. It opened our eyes as community members and our districts to know that there are other opportunities and ways to educate children than to stand in the classroom,” she said.

The pandemic changed the way schools used technology in a big way, and Washington County School District was no exception. School leaders used their prior tech knowledge to move their students online and keep them engaged and on track to complete their school work during these uncertain times. They now have a new appreciation for technology and how it can help students in the future.

Technology’s outside influences

Apart from helping them learn new subjects in the classroom, technology has also helped students in Washington County School District grow as individuals in many other aspects of their lives.

“This whole thing is even bigger than just technology,” Belnap said. “Our students are now learning independently and how to drive their own education with these new applications.”

Wilstead said the new types of technologies that emerged during the pandemic are also teaching the students to get comfortable with unfamiliar resources and use familiar resources in new ways.

“There is so much technology knowledge required outside of school,” he said. “The more we expose them to different platforms and get them to fully understand how to use those platforms, they’re able to then take that knowledge and assimilate it to something else when they leave school and move on. They’ll have those experiences to build on.”

Opportunities for enhancement

Technology provides students with opportunities to not only become more creative, collaborative and adaptive but also to become better team workers, communicators and critical thinkers. Without adequate technology resources and high-speed internet in schools, students have a greater chance at falling behind.

That’s why the Utah Education and Telehealth Network technology inventory is so critical. For Washington County School District, the inventory is allowing its schools to evaluate their current technology and identify ways to enhance digital teaching and learning resources. Brown and her colleagues are excited about the opportunities that are sure to result.

“Students need to see that they can be successful using the computer, and that doesn’t always look the same for every student,” she said. “That’s why I love teaching technology. I feel like my biggest goal as a teacher is to try to help kids be able to embrace how they could use technology to improve their lives.”

More information about the Utah Education and Telehealth Network inventory is available online.

Originally published on Connected Nation.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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