Many schools have developed their own compelling vision of what their school could look like if it took full advantage of digital technologies. Now they are facing the difficult task of turning that vision into reality. As you do this work, you might want to take some advice from other schools that have gone down the path before you. All of them agree that you need to consider four key areas as you build the school of your dreams to align with your vision:
This includes the network infrastructure, the network services, and the devices in the hands of students and teachers that enable them to do the work pictured in your vision.
This includes the rooms, spaces, and facilities your students and teachers will need to carry out the activities pictured in your Day in the Life.
3. Curriculum Development
This includes the new objectives, assignments, content, instruction and assessment necessary to guide teachers and students in their learning according to your vision.
4. Teacher Development
This includes the new skills and attitudes necessary for teachers to lead the implementation of your vision into that day-to-day life of the school.
No school transformation project has succeeded without addressing all four of these areas simultaneously. Here are some examples that show how different schools have faced up to each of these challenges.
The Vista Peak School in Aurora, Colorado, a facility that includes students from preschool through college level, sent its Day in the Life and its System Requirements document to the local Cisco systems engineers, and asked them to design a network that would enable that vision to operate. The network and services that they designed -- very different from most schools in the state -- contained the capacity for high-bandwidth multimedia connections to twice the number of devices as the number of students in the school, recognizing the realities of multiple mobile devices called for in the vision. The design included no computer labs (these did not appear in the vision), but added increased wireless capacity as well as fiber-optic connections to areas of high bandwidth use, such as the music and video studios.
The kinds of educational work set forth in their vision demanded new kinds of spaces for the school: fewer closed 25-student classrooms, but more laboratory and small-group meeting spaces. They also needed to be able to see all over the school at once, to permit students to work independently without direct supervision, while preserving their health and safety. So the Education Ministry in Copenhagen announced a competition: a licensed architect could team up with a certified school principal and teacher to design a building that fit the vision. The winning design was built in 2005 as the Ørestad Gymnasium. It features a large central meeting place with round tables that serve as lunch tables as well as workstations. Above this is an open atrium with three stories of workspaces for teachers and students: a few traditional closed classrooms, but mostly spaces designed for specific purposes: engineering and science labs, art and music studios, small conference rooms, all with glass walls and sound-deadening acoustics.
At the iSchool in New York City, the faculty worked in groups of four over the spring and summer before the school opened, to design an all-new curriculum for the 9th grade. They designed a series of problem-solving challenges that included skills and competencies from all disciplines: math, science, social studies, literature, health and the arts. These projects formed the core of the students' work at the iSchool. Among them was the design of a new roof for the school -- it needed one desperately -- so students were formed into study groups, each one developing its own plans for a roof system that was environmentally kind and energy-efficient. None of the teachers had ever designed a curriculum like this, and it was not easy to fit in all of the key skills and competencies into the roof-design project. Nonetheless, they succeeded; the students presented their designed to the city Building Department, who chose the best one and built the roof.
At Shenandoah University in Virginia, few faculty members had ever used the technologies featured in the school's vision: videoconferencing stations, tablets, smart classrooms, eTextbooks, and so forth. So the first step was to arm each faculty member with the devices he or she needed; and then to let them work with the technology in two stages:
1. After a short introductory, hands-on training session in the spring, faculty was encouraged to take the devices home over the summer to work (and play) with them.
2. In the fall, groups of faculty worked together with a consultant to revise their courses to fit the new technology and deliver the vision. They followed the SPA method:
S: Syllabus. Each faculty member reviewed his or her syllabus with the consultant, looking for digital opportunities: lectures, readings, and assignments that would benefit from a switch to digital format. They chose two or three such opportunities to develop.
P: Performance. Each also chose one academic presentation -- a lecture or discussion -- to re-think and re-develop as a digitally enhanced exercise, and develop it with the help of their colleagues and the consultant.
A: Assessment. Each faculty member chose two student assessments from the course's quizzes, exams, papers, and projects, to be re-designed to happen digitally.
The result of the summer exploration and fall workshop at Shenandoah was positive, and so the session was repeated again in each of the next three semesters, and today digital assignments are well woven into the fabric of the school.