Name: Alice Owen
Title: Division Director of Technology
District: Irving Independent School District (TX)
What are your big-picture tech goals for your district?
One of our biggest initiatives is focusing on online learning. We are changing how our alternative school works and turning it into a virtual school. This year, we shifted that school to be a blended learning school and we are doing lots of teacher training and helping them rethink their schedules. All of the 400 students received a laptop, too. We’ve always offered virtual courses, but now we are making this school the shining star of how to do blended learning.
In the past, this school was for students who did not succeed elsewhere. Now we want it to be a school that students choose to come to. We’re trying to promote it as an alternative to the comprehensive high school. Half of the work will be done online and half will be face to face. Many of the students at this school are from low-income families, and 40 to 50 percent don’t have home Internet access. We just won the Technology Lending Program grant in our state, which will help us provide home Internet access to these families. We are still focused on expanding our 1:1 laptop program and making sure that we are providing equity for all students.
What changes are you taking to achieve them?
We’re doing lots of teacher training. Because of our 1:1 laptop program we have an instructional technology specialist (ITS) and a technician at every campus to help teachers. We are formalizing our virtual school and the way it will operate. We also hired a coordinator of virtual schools, and that person is the designated administrator to work full time to develop curriculum, train teachers, and work with them to implement new strategies. As the school grows, we hope to hire more full-time staff.
We are developing exemplary instructional learning models for 1:1 and blended learning environments. This year we will begin a program to provide incentives for teachers to utilize technology in promoting higher-level thinking.
What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?
Funding continues to be a huge challenge. We need to formalize sustainable funding sources so our technology program is not so dependent on bond funds. We are looking at different sources of funds, such as the instructional materials allotment funds and other local and federal monies to fund the ongoing cost of replacement technology.
How do you get buy in on ed tech from the school community?
We have been working with our local Chamber of Commerce to create partnerships with businesses and community leaders and find common interests that will improve the community. They understand that we are training tomorrow’s work force and see the value of technology in education.
What currently has you really excited?
We see the potential of the collaborative opportunities that cloud computing can provide both locally and globally. We are involved in several projects, at the state and national levels, where our district will collaborate with other districts to redefine assessment and transform our schools toward a more digital environment.
We are also involved in some global learning projects where our students will connect with students in other countries to collaborate on solving world problems such as water shortages and food waste. I am excited about the possibilities to revitalize the teaching profession by reducing the amount of testing and focusing more on creativity and innovation in instruction.