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Idaho Technology Pilot Project

Another in an occasional series of guest posts, we are pleased to feature the work and voices of SETDA members. Today’s post comes from Alex MacDonald currently serving educators across Idaho as the Director of Instructional Technology at the Idaho State Department of Education.

Over the past two years, the Idaho Legislature  has appropriated $6 million to be made available to schools across Idaho for technology pilot projects. The pilot projects, which run for up to two years, are designed to improve student academic growth as well as financial efficiencies through a full integration technology model.

The intent of this grant program is to focus on technology implementation at a single school building that will be scalable to other schools and sustainable statewide after the pilot period. In many situations across Idaho, the state recognizes that school buildings are severely lacking in technology that enhances and maximizes learning opportunities for students and changes instructional practices for educators. In the 21st Century, every student and teacher in every school in Idaho should have access to the necessary technology, tools, and knowledge to create a Next Generation Learning Environment (NxGLE).

Many educators and policy makers struggle with what the NxGLE looks like. This is typically because they are in search of one-size fits all approach, trying to standardize technology integration and searching for a silver bullet. It has become very evident through the 26 pilot projects  that local autonomy is paramount. Educational leaders need to look at the students’ levels to define not what an NxGLE looks like, but what it does. What are the planned knowledge, skills, and learning outcomes?

The first step our pilot school leaders took was to look at the Idaho Core Standards. With this guidance, administrators and teachers worked hand in hand with students, to clearly understand what students need to accomplish learning outcomes, a truly collaborative process. This has sparked a transition over the last few years of teachers becoming facilitators of learning and has enabled them to use of technology to coordinate personalized learning for students. Here are some key phrases of NxGLE descriptions taken from the project proposals, with key ideas bolded.

  • Outstanding knowledge and skills required for success in a globalized working and learning environment.
  • Authentic student voice, which is the deep engagement of students in directing and owning their individual learning.
  • A focus on collaborative learning and critical thinking. Our classrooms will be student-centered, mobile and flexible learning environments focused on academic achievement and social interaction.
  • Students are put at the center of the learning process and are engaged in constructive learning experiences, lessons are vigorous and relevant to the real world and reflect the knowledge and skills needed for success in a post-secondary education or career.
  • Their student-centered inquiries will combine discipline knowledge and research techniques to solve problems, pursue new knowledge, build, and create.

With an established vision of the NxGLE, instructional leaders are ready to implement different technologies and tools that support the learning outcomes, objectives, and higher order skills that are paramount for students. Though the Idaho Technology Pilot is not complete, leaders have solidified key philosophies and learned about essential elements within the paradigm shift. Below are several of these general findings:

  • Leadership and fortitude is paramount in success
  • Projects need focused and scaled deployment plan
  • High speed broadband is essential to maximizing the devices and learning resources
  • Technology integration paradigm shift takes several years, not just a summer
  • Technology integration coaches or specialists for job embedded professional development are valuable
  • Recurring teacher collaboration time (weekly or monthly) is essential
  • Successful deployments use a technology integration model, such as the SAMR or TPACK
  • Interoperability with applications and resources is important.
  • Students as support” model for Tier 1 support and training is effective

NxGLE has opened learning opportunities; learning is no longer confined to the four walls of the classroom or the hours of the school day. With technology as the support mechanism of learning and NOT the focal point and teachers facilitating learning, students across Idaho are engaged to excel, similar to other students across the country. How are your districts and teachers enabling the Next Generation Learning Environment?


Macdonald_1201Alex Macdonald is currently serving educators across Idaho as the Director of Instructional Technology at the Idaho State Department of Education, where he was previously the Education Technology Coordinator. Having started out as a Mathematics and computer applications teacher, he quickly recognized the benefit of effective technology integration, and worked diligently to research best practices to meet the needs of students. His past experience also includes being an online teacher, technology coordinator, testing coordinator, and an administrator, where he implemented and conducted professional development opportunities in technology integration for teachers. Through his current work at the Idaho State Department of Education, Alex and his team has created and implemented an integrated approach to professional development that encompasses the transition to the Common Core, integrating Smarter Balanced Assessments, incorporating Digital Content, and how these are supported by Data Driven Instructional Practices. Alex holds a B.S. in Mathematics Education from Boise State University, a M.A. Ed. in Curriculum & Technology from the University of Phoenix, and a M.A. Ed. in Educational Leadership from Northwest Nazarene University. But most importantly, he is a husband to a wonderful wife, and father to three exceptional children.


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