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Instruction technology gaining traction within Cornerstone

Adam Wilson provided a comprehensive, one-hour presentation on technology in schools.

WEYBURN – So, what exactly is instructional technology? Where and how is it deployed and who is using it?

The topic could be a convoluted one but Adam Wilson, co-ordinator of instructional technology for the South East Cornerstone Public School Division, spoke quickly and clearly, delivering the answers to the above questions, plus many more.

During a nearly one-hour presentation to the division’s board members at their April 26 general business meeting, Wilson laid out the scope of what is currently being offered and ventured into possible future realms as they relate to educators and their students.

Wilson explained at the outset what he and his IT coaches and technicians are currently engaged in, explaining to the trustees, “What we’re working on, on a day-to-day basis and the improvements made over the past couple of years.”

Instructional technology, he said, enhances already established teaching and learning practices by bringing modern technology tools into use on a regular basis, giving students choices and ownership of their learning journeys, while enabling even more data gathering and improving reading and comprehension skills among students.

Wilson mentioned how the MySchoolSask (MSS) platform, now in its second year of use, is a province-wide student information system used by office and administration staff and parents who use the Edsby platform, which he described as a “one stop shop for parents to follow.”

Both platforms are achieving more efficiency as they grow, with feedback from users providing guidance.

Wilson said they were pleased when a total of 77 teachers signed up for original training on using Edsby portfolios. He noted that at first, well over 80 had applied but some had to drop out due to conflicts in scheduling or other demands.

A video displaying the learning goals pursued in a number of schools using IT, led to some interesting results as different students in elementary grades experimented with robotic programming and use.

Moving the needle on educational technology definitely enhances reading programs, since teachers can easily discern student flaws that “can inform their instructions the next day,” he explained, “again, it’s enhancing, not changing teaching practices,” he assured his audience.

“For a kid who struggles with reading, it’s a big help.”

The co-ordinator explained how the Microsoft 365 system and the SECPSD’s Sora e-library system moved the needle in library services, making choices of titles and formats much easier as well as even more accessible.

Student usage of the Sora library system has grown from a total of 731 users in Sept. 2021 to 16,081 total checkouts by mid-April of this year, an increase of over 247 per cent.  

Wilson delved into the topic of how the division was slowly but surely moving away from the L4U platform to a new library management system known as Insignia. The move was made only after a clear alternative was in the wings.

The conversion and training happened just recently over the past Easter break, with a goal set to have a full deployment of Insignia by the start of the new academic year this September.

“It’s cheaper than L4U with quality research and materials offered to school libraries and e-libraries,” Wilson added.

The future holds some interesting developments and challenges, he suggested, noting how the newly developing ChatGPT might be used to, again, enhance teaching practices by assisting the composition models to reach an end product.

“It has huge potential,” Wilson said, referring to ChatGPT, but it has to be used responsibly and with knowledge of its benefits and potential negatives.

He also said his team has partnered with the Southeast Techhub, centred in Estevan, to bring in even more developments and together they will add tech skill sets in the southeast corner of the province. He added they are already organizing a science fair for next year that will include robotic challenges.

Also, while looking ahead, Wilson suggested that SECPSD could improve its selection of already excellent tech-supported inventories by focusing on an update of interactive displays.  He noted  a number of out of service SMART boards in Cornerstone schools with a large variety of projector brands and models that led to discrepancy in classroom displays.

He added that many schools are reluctant to repair or purchase new equipment and recommended that an annual inventory could lead to a new era of quality equipment that would be longer lasting, and that bulk purchases of same model items such as projectors would lead to savings and more effective usage.

He said SECPSD is currently featuring 255 old-style SMART boards, and that perhaps there needed to be an assessment made as to what grade levels benefit most from interactive displays and what other options there might be.

“These displays are like giant iPads that mount on the walls or portable stands so teachers can use them for different classroom activities,” he explained.

In conclusion, Wilson noted, “digital citizenship is becoming more and more important.”

He said this citizenship was more than a teaching tool, but also a way to prepare students for a society full of technology.

He added in some instances, young people display a false perception of digital skills, they are using technology at earlier ages and they need to know and develop 21st century skills to combat and prevent cyberbullying, and to achieve emotional awareness and overall health in the real, digital world.

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