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Cutting-Edge Technology Program Presented at International Conference Through Grant Sponsored By Hillsborough Education Foundation (HEF)

Joel Handler presents to a crowd of 250 attendees at the BETT conference in London.
Joel Handler presents to a crowd of 250 attendees at the BETT conference in London.

The Hillsborough Education Foundation (HEF) was pleased to support Joel Handler, Director of Technology for the Board of Education, as he represented our community at the British Educational Training and Technology (BETT) show. BETT is a leading international learning technology conference that was held in London from January 22 through 24 and is attending by companies such as APPLE and Google, as well as cutting-edge technologists to learn and share ideas. We caught up with Joel upon his return for a quick interview which is excerpted below.

HEF: Joel thanks for joining us today and welcome back from BETT. Before we talk about the conference, can you tell us a little more about what you do on a day-to-day basis?

JH: As the Director of Technology for the Hillsborough Board of Education, I oversee all aspects of technology throughout the district. This includes technology integration in the classroom as well as all computing and electronic communication systems.

HEF: What are some of the opportunities and challenges the district faces in regard to technology?

JH: We have seen tremendous growth in the area of technology integration throughout the district. The access to information and creative tools, along with the ability to connect and collaborate as a result of the Chromebook 1:1 pilot is fascinating. With our continued relationship with outside vendors such as Google and Hapara, we have had wonderful opportunities to transform student learning.

Hillsborough’s biggest challenge is dealing with how quickly technology is changing. As a district, we need to continue to expand our understanding of how to best meet the challenges of today as we educate our students for tomorrow.

HEF: Tell us a little bit about the Chromebook pilot. What is it, and how has it impacted the lives of our students? What are the plans for the future of this pilot?

JH: The Chromebook 1:1 pilot is a program to pursue technology innovations district-wide in grades 5-12 to enhance the learning environment. This includes helping our students gain access to a global curriculum and enriching their learning through videos, apps that they can use at home for studying, skyping with students in other countries and much more. It also means preparing them to create, collaborate on and publish their own digital content; which will be critically important as they look toward college and the changing workforce.

For the Chromebook 1:1 pilot, we started 3 years ago with about 80 students in 4 classrooms. In 2012-13 we expanded the pilot to include 10% of our students in grades 5-12 and are now at 20%. The goal next year is to go to a complete 1:1 model whereby each student in grades 5-12 will be issued a Chromebook to enhance their learning experience.

We have seen great success in the program over the past 3 years. Teachers involved in the pilots have stated that the 1:1 initiative has been professionally rewarding and has positively changed the way they teach and students learn. With each student in the 1:1 pilot having their own device, we have seen a more interactive, student-centered approach to learning. Our studies have found that students are more organized overall and were more responsible for their learning having the 1:1 devices.

HEF: What is the Hapara teacher dashboard? Can you tell us how has it has impacted the lives of students/teachers?

JH: The Hapara Teacher Dashboard is an add-on tool for Google Apps. It has two benefits. The first is organizing student work into a quick and easy-to-use tool to help teachers access all their students’ work in an organized and efficient manner. They can quickly determine how much time a student has spent on a task to ensure students are actively engaged in their assignments. Teachers may also see their students’ Chromebook screens from their laptop while they work in class which makes it easy for them to monitor their students work.

The Hapara Teacher Dashboard is one of the first technology tools that teachers have actually said required very little time to learn and yet provides a huge benefit. Most new technologies are helpful in the long run, but initially take time to learn and understand, however this tool has helped right out of the gate.

HEF: How many other schools are using these technologies?

JH: Many schools are beginning to adopt these tools. By the end of February, we will have had over 50 districts over the past two years visit Hillsborough and learn from our success. Many of these districts, including West Windsor-Plainsboro and Hopewell Valley, have begun modeling their programs after ours.

HEF: Tell us about your recent experience at BETT.

JH: At the BETT conference, I was honored to present the 1:1 Chromebook and Tablet programs we have implemented here in Hillsborough to an international audience of approximately 250 people. I discussed our rollout schedule as well as the areas of training and support we provide for our teachers.

While participating in the conference, I saw how far ahead the US is in focusing on student-centered learning rather than teacher-directed classrooms. I also had the chance to meet many educators from around the world and learn about international trends occurring in education.

I am grateful for the grant from Hillsborough Education Foundation that made my travel to the BETT event possible. I would like to extend my sincere thanks for the opportunity to represent Hillsborough, to learn from others, and use the insights to enrich our district’s technology strategy.

HEF: What were some of the innovations that you saw that would be a great option for Hillsborough or perhaps, the wave of the future?

JH: There was a lot of talk about 3D printing and design. I explored some of the offerings and the potential educational impact these devices will have over the next few years and was amazed to see how far the technology has come. This is a technology we have begun seriously investigating for use in our STEM program. It was also interesting to see how the UK state curriculum is now requiring programming and the number of products and talks on this topic.

Another topic discussed was using the scientific method to collect and explore data and make realistic and rational predictions based on that data across all curriculum areas. This is a topic I plan on bringing back to the curriculum department to explore further.

HEF: Can you give us a glimpse of what the future of technology will look like in Hillsborough?

JH: The focus of technology in Hillsborough will be how we can continue to use these tools to engage students in learning. We have seen already that when we develop the culture of technology-based learning, more student-centered education happens.

The best way to envision the future of technology in Hillsborough is to think about how technology is accepted in society. People don’t get excited about using their phones to look up information, find directions, and make a phone call from anywhere. These actions are now part of the society we live in.

This translates to the classroom, where students and staff involved in the pilot use the devices as tools to enhance the learning environment and they don’t think twice about it. An administrator visiting our district last spring asked one of our 1:1 students, “Don’t you find it strange that your back is to the front of the classroom?” The student responded, “That’s the front of the room? I never realized that.” To me, this speaks volumes. We are no longer a society that expects teachers to stand at the front of a class talking “at” the students, but a society in which our students are fully engaged in a collaborative learning process.

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