We’re excited to announce a new blog post series featuring conversations with education professionals about the way their school uses technology. To kick off the series, we sat down with Brad Baugher, Director of Educational Technology at Oregon Episcopal School (OES) in Portland, Oregon. OES is a private, college preparatory K-12 school with 850 students.
Tell me about the overarching philosophy regarding educational technology at OES.
The device is not the important thing for us; it's our program. We are dedicated to making sure that the technology we promote, research and support is what the program needs, so part of our job is looking forward, part of our job is helping to implement, and part of our job is to bring people along with us when we see its effects on the program.
We have 1:1 iPod Touches in 2nd grade; 3rd and 4th grade, each kid has a Chromebook; 5th-9th grade, the school provides a MacBook, and in 10th, 11th and 12th, families decide what their kids are going to need for the rest of their school career. So that's our basic program, and then we have a lot of ancillary programs that need to be supported outside that, so we have a lot of iPads and iPad Minis. They might show up in the Lower School or the Upper School. We support the teachers and the kids through aspects of the program that technology touches.
So when you refer to the program, is that curriculum-based? As in, the curriculum goal is set, and then it’s determined how technology can support it?
It's the curriculum goal, but it also might be a classroom goal. Take, for instance, a 4th grade class where there's a sort of character and culture of that classroom. We also try and make sure we fit that as well. Some teachers are going to be more interested in using technology a lot, some are interested in using it a little, and they have their own specific needs for how to use it. So it’s curriculum, yes, but I really prefer to call it a program, an educational program. It's resource-based, and our main product is customer service.
How do you manage the school’s devices?
We're really prescriptive with the devices until high school. Taking the Chromebooks as an example, we have a Google Apps domain, so all of our Chromebooks are checked in and managed through that domain. Every child from 2nd grade on has a Google Apps account, and they're set up now so that if you're a 2nd grader logging into your Google Apps account, these are the apps you get and this is where you can go. With 3rd and 4th grade, where they're 1:1, it’s set up as this Chromebook is assigned to this student and this student has their set of apps. It’s more like there’s a 3rd grade set of apps and a 4th grade set of apps, but there's some customization.
Do you have any security problems with a BYOD environment? It sounds like most students take their device home and bring it back.
We do use that model for 6th grade through 9th grade, but kids don't take their devices home until 6th grade. We have a formal laptop program where they've had 3 years’ experience with the device, and we use it as a graduating process where now we think you're ready for this and we can talk about the responsibilities involved.
We inject the technologies into their families, and we try to take that responsibility seriously because not every family has the same tolerance, the same structure set up in their family system to deal with the technology, so we also do a lot of parent and family support around the use of the technology. It's taken a long time to develop that model, but that's how we handle it.
I really like the idea of involving the parents at the very beginning. Transparency seems crucial to success.
We call it a partnership. We refer to it explicitly as a parent partnership because we know that we are creating some effect in their family, and it's not going to be appreciated or welcomed on the same level by every family, so they have a right to question it and make decisions about it. We will be working with parents in different grade level groups to help them design family, technology and media plans based on their own values. A lot of families don't understand that when you hand a kid an iPod or something like a Kindle Fire, they've got an Internet-enabled device. That's not trivial.
What would you consider your biggest day-to-day challenge?
I'd say overall, right at this moment, the biggest challenge is making sure the changes in technology get woven into the curriculum correctly. So people see that what we're doing has purpose because it's a lot of money, it's a lot of time, and the resources that are involved need to be justified. People need to be able to see that "Oh, this is what you're doing. Now I get it." That's a constant challenge from all sorts of areas. It can be from teachers, it can be from our business office, or from parents. That's a challenge.
So, how much of this technology is, let's say, “The teacher teaches me, and then I do an exercise on my laptop” versus “I read this on my laptop, and this is what I'm learning today.” Does that make sense?
Yes, I think I know what you're saying. Most of what we do is not simply a different way to do the same thing. And so the things that we support most are the initiatives that teachers come up with that we think are going to have the biggest impact on the whole program, and not just their program.
A good example is Minecraft. We have gotten push back from teachers and from parents. But, during the second semester of the school year, Minecraft is installed on all middle school laptops, and we use it as a simulation and problem solving arena. Thinking about how we're going to use something before we institute it or make it available gets around the concern of "Is this just a techy way to do the same thing?"
We have a long way to go, but one of the best things about technology, at least for me and I think for all the people in our tech department, is that things are always changing. It’s never the same job from one year to the next. We always get to learn and play. We always get to look at the curriculum again and work with teachers and kids, both, parents now more than ever. It’s fun.
What do you see as the future of technology at OES?
Something that continues to grow that I have a lot of high hopes for is synchronous communication. It could be voice, video, or both. We've invested a lot in video conferencing to talk with people who wouldn't normally be able to join you. For instance, we had an author from Hungary last week, and while it's a 9 hour difference, if we do it early in the morning, it's only 5:00 for him. He was happy to talk about his books for an hour and a half. We've also had a connection with a high school in Kabul, Afghanistan. We had an intermediary service that provided a connection, but it was video conferencing.
The idea of being able to reach out further than your own campus is where I think people are going to find a lot of fertile ground. A lot of people are ready for that.
Check out our interviews with Rushton Hurley from Next Vista for Learning and Joe Morelock from Canby School District to read more educators’ thoughts on edtech, and if you’re in the market for a charging solution, don’t miss our award-winning line of charging carts and cabinets.
Check back next month for the next installment of Educators on EdTech