At the District 65 School Board meeting on April 23, Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, said the District will begin its expansion of the District’s 1:1 technology program in the 2018-2019 school year. The program, which was initially implemented at Chute Middle School and at King Arts in sixth through eighth grades in 2014-15, will be expanded next year to sixth grade at Nichols and Haven schools, and sixth through eighth grades at Bessie Rhodes. Ultimately, the program will be expanded to all sixth through eighth grades.

A team of educators has been gathering information and working on developing the expanded program, called “Access to Innovate.” The team prefers using iPads rather than Chromebooks, and it supports using the Triple E Framework to guide the program. The framework, developed at the University of Michigan, draws on educational research concerning effective and ineffective practices with technology tools from the past two decades. 

Dr. Beardsley said, “This is a tool to create active, engaged, and exciting learning, and it’s that active piece that is incredibly important in thinking about this work.”

An Evolution from Digital Promise

In June 2014, the Board agreed to partner with Digital Promise to roll out the 1:1 iPad initiative at Chute and King Arts schools. Under the program, Digital Promise provided an iPad for each student and teacher in the program and also provided a secured/filtered cellular data plan for three years for each iPad for Internet access away from school. In addition, Digital Promise provided $25,000 for a full-time coach at each school and professional development for all teachers. The value of Digital Promise’s contribution was estimated at $1.3 million for a three-year period.

The Digital Promise funding has run out, but the Referendum approved by the community in April 2017 provides about $875,000 per year to continue and expand the program to all sixth- through eighth-graders in the District.  Dr. Beardsley said the District is staying within the budget contemplated by the Referendum.

The Triple E Framework

“What the team really liked about the Triple E framework is it puts learning at the center,” said Dr. Beardsley. “The student’s learning goals have to be at the middle of the whole thing. If the technology is not advancing learning, then we need to rethink the way we’re using technology.”

Dr. Beardsley said the Triple E Framework promotes learning in three ways: It increases engagement in students’ learning goals; it enhances the learning goals; and it extends the learning goals.

Engagement: Under the framework, there is a greater focus on the students’ learning goals, and motivating students to dive into the learning goals in a deeper way, and create active learning, said Dr. Beardsley.

“We use technology as a tool through which students can engage in the learning in social ways, by partnering with each other. It may be on a shared device. It may be on an adjacent device. But they’re working through the problems and the challenges in an active way.

“The Triple E Framework talks about shifting kids from being passive to active learners.”

Enhancement: Triple E calls for using technology in a way that will enhance a student’s learning goals. “The key here is, if we can do it better without the technology, we should continue to do it without the technology,” said Dr. Beardsley. “The technology is to enhance, to increase engagement, and to extend learning.

“We are adding a tool. It should increase differentiation, help create individual learning paths, and increase access to difficult reading texts. It should allow kids to demonstrate what they’re learning in different ways.”

Extending: The technology also enables students to extend their learning beyond the classroom and to connect with the world.

Dr. Beardsley said students can collaborate with experts and with other students; they can connect with other teachers and connect with students in other cultures; and they can “bridge” or connect their learning in school with their after-school work. 

‘There is a great opportunity to engage partnerships to enhance learning through technology,” said Dr. Beardsley, giving as examples the McGaw YMCA MetaMedia team, Northwestern University’s Science in Society and the Evanston Public Library.   

In addition, students can support each other and collaborate with each other.

Dr. Beardsley said during focus groups convened to gather input, teachers who participated in the Digital Promise program said the iPads provided students with a tool to ask and answer questions important to them, which increased the relevance of  the work; teachers said some students asked if they could demonstrate their learning in a different way, such as by using audio and media tools on the iPad; some teachers said they were making a shift to increasingly being a guide or a facilitator of student learning, with students becoming more active learners.

“These are instructional shifts that are occurring as teachers and students realize that the tool can allow for the District to think differently about the role of students and teachers in learning,” said Dr. Beardsley.

Teachers expressed a preference to using iPads rather than Chromebooks because they felt iPads had features that could better engage students and provide more opportunities for creative learning.

Considerations of Equity

All students in the Access to Innovate program will receive an iPad, which will provide a common learning device and equal access to learning for all students. The iPads will contain a curated set of apps and tools that will support teaching and learning. If a teacher identifies an additional app or tool for the iPad, there will be an app approval process.  

“This is actually about increasing the cognitive load and the work that kids are doing. It’s about increasing the relative rigor and supporting kids so they can become increasingly independent,” Dr. Beardsley said.

The District is working to ensure all students will have access to Wi-Fi at home. During the past year, King Arts and Chute schools piloted a hotspot loaner program similar to that offered by Evanston Public Library. The District plans to expand hotspot loaner program next year at Bessie Rhodes, Nichols and Haven schools.  

Professional Learning

The planning team has developed a preliminary professional learning plan for principals and educators.  In addition, the District plans to keep the two innovation coaches who provided support and job-embedded training under the Digital Promise program and to retain two more coaches as the program expands next year.

Board members were all complimentary of the program.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...