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Happy in New Berlin (WI) with a Hybrid 1:1/BYO Program

By: 
EllenUllman

“Our current tech journey began three years ago when we looked at our IT plan,” says Larry Lueck, director of learning technology for Wisconsin's School District of New Berlin (SDNB). “We were at the end of our three-year cycle and figuring out how to move forward.”

The district had been moving toward a one-to-one implementation for the secondary level (grades 7-12) and had purchased 800 Dell laptops. They also bought netbooks for the elementary schools, iPads and iTouch devices for special education classes, SMARTBoards, and projectors. But when Lueck brought the staff and community together to discuss the IT plan, they said they wanted to focus on helping the students whose teachers tell them to turn their technology off. Adding a bring-your-own (BYO) component for secondary-level students was the logical next step—a way to move more rapidly toward one-to-one.

“We were investing in a robust, sustainable wireless infrastructure to handle one-to-one at the secondary level,” says Lueck. “As we did that, we also worked on opening up that network for BYO for staff and students.”

When SDNB decided to open the network, they knew they didn’t need to assign the laptops to individual students, says Lueck. Instead, they bought charging carts and assigned sets of 15 or 30 laptops by department. Later, the computers became supplemental for students who didn’t bring in their own.

Although the elementary schools have netbooks, the secondary grades requested full-size laptops for a variety of reasons. First, the screen resolution was too small for the older kids and their hands were too big for the smaller keyboards. They also wanted more capacity and power; Adobe programs can’t run on a netbook. Last but not least, the netbooks took longer to authenticate once powered on.

Behind the Scenes

To start the BYO process, the district had to update infrastructure and rewrite policy. For about a year, New Berlin worked with Dell to create a solid network with adequate wireless access points at its two secondary schools, a stronger firewall, a guest network for student- and teacher-owned devices, and an upgraded service desk. It also transitioned from an eDirectory structure to Active Directory. Teachers, administrators, and the community discussed expectations and concerns that informed the new policy—an appropriate use policy—that reflects a shift from banning technology to using it in valuable ways to support learning.

To train teachers how to transition to a digital curriculum, the district called on a small group of  “pioneers” who were already using digital tools. These secondary staff members received summer training to figure out what worked in a BYO environment. These pioneers helped write a BYO handbook and supported other teachers when the BYO program rolled out. “Our goal is to reach critical mass and move beyond digital tools into a true, embedded/blended and project-based learning approach,” says Lueck. Although New Berlin has always been known as a tech-savvy district, the new mission is to turn the schools into interactive learning environments.

According to Lueck, today’s training sessions are dual purpose: “If we’re teaching about spreadsheets, it’s because we want staff to be able to track and manipulate data and understand student learning. We show them how to use a filtering feature in a spreadsheet or how to add sheets into a workbook and pull out the data even more. We’re not just running a session on Excel.”

And … Action!

The BYO program launched very quietly in March 2011. “We pretty much said, ‘Tomorrow you can start bringing your own devices,’” says Lueck. Because of the thorough preparation, the endeavor was trouble-free. In the first three months, the amount of devices went from 1,000 to 1,900.

So far, Lueck says it’s been fairly easy for the IT department. Students take care of their own devices and there is less than 10 percent breakage of the district-owned machines.

The Future Is Blended

With BYO now “old hat,” staff members are increasingly focusing on how to more deeply embed technology in their classes. “When we talk about how to manipulate data in Excel or create a course in Moodle or tear down lines of access by using cloud-based products, we are having those conversations at every level and training some of our pioneers,” Lueck says. This year, he launched a networking effort so that teachers know who has which skills and can ask for or provide just-in-time training for one another. “If we have people trained in Moodle, other staff can go to them for help.”

These days, the new focus is on blended learning. This fall, two sixth-grade classes are pilot testing ALEKS (www.aleks.com/k12), an adaptive, online math program that uses artificial intelligence to deliver individualized learning and assessment. The teachers are using this online program to figure out how to incorporate a blended-learning approach in their teaching. Already, they are seeing lots of benefits with the blended model. “The teachers are using classroom time for larger problem-solving and communication connected to the Common Core and are finding the students are ready to learn.” 

Since plenty of teachers have received training on and are comfortable with Moodle (https://moodle.org), many are figuring out how to use it to for blended learning. “Teachers tell me that students who have their own devices love that they can save things to their desktop and use their own bookmarks,” says Lueck.

The district has developed some courses to be delivered through Moodle so that staff members can complete it during the year or even in the summer. Lueck hopes to also develop a program that will let staff focus on learning higher levels of the tools currently in place and earn badges that show their level of learning. “We are discussing how these badges can translate into additional stipends, professional development monies set aside, or additional hardware for their classrooms.”

At A Glance: 

·      School District of New Berlin is a suburban district in Milwaukee serving 4,700 students. There are four K-6 elementary schools and two middle/high schools for grades 7-12.

·      Approximately 86% of the district’s students are White, 7% Asian, 4% Hispanic, and 2% Black.

·      In 2012, both New Berlin high schools were in Newsweek magazine’s list of America’s Best High Schools. New Berlin Eisenhower was #3 in Wisconsin and #353 in the U.S.; New Berlin West was #7 in the sate and #436 nationally.

·       In 2011, the district was one of 367 public school districts honored by the College Board with a place on the second annual AP Honor Roll. Since 2009, the district increased the amount of students taking AP classes from 378 to 474 (25% increase) and improved the percentage of students earning AP exam scores of 3 or higher from 75% to 79%.

Infrastructure: 

·      Elementary school students use Dell 2110 netbooks. There are also iPads and iTouch devices for students with special needs.

·      Middle and high school students use Dell 6420 or 6430 laptops, as well as some Dell 2110 netbooks. Increasingly, students are bringing in their own devices.

·      Other technology the district uses: LifeSize videoconferencing tools, SMART boards, NEC and Mitsubishi projectors, Stoneware cloud services, Moodle, Read 180, Odysseyware, Dell Kace, Windows 7, and Office 2010.

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