Austin schools install innovation stations to integrate technology

CDW Government LLC (CDW-G), provider of technology solutions to government, education and healthcare customers, and Austin Independent School District (AISD) today announced the installation of 2,000 “Innovation Stations” throughout the district’s 120 schools to provide teachers and students with technology-enabled lessons.

“We had technology in our classrooms, but nothing was connected or integrated as part of a larger educational technology plan,” said John Alawneh, executive director of information technology (IT) at AISD. “We needed a strong, consistent and standardized technology solution to support and enhance student learning.”

The IT and educational technology (ET) departments at AISD, with help from CDW-G, designed the Innovation Station – a central podium with a touch-screen pad that enables teachers to control best-of-breed technology, including a mounted projector, screen, document camera and classroom audio system with microphones, amplifiers and speakers. The technology is supported with ongoing professional development for faculty.

“In just a few minutes, AISD students can go from looking at organisms on the document camera, to a Skype session with a guest speaker anywhere in the world. The technology works together to give students the opportunity to learn about their world from the microscopic to the universal level,” Alawneh noted.

“Standardization ensures that the exact same technology is in every classroom – so that no matter which room a teacher is in, he or she can immediately power up, using a full range of technology within the lesson plan,” said Bob Kirby, vice president for K-12 education, CDW-G. “For the IT department, this standardization streamlines IT support and help desk calls.”

Every teacher receives training on the Innovation Station, and when teachers use a device for the first time, the system provides access to a library of resources and content developed by ET staff and fellow teachers. “Professional development is one of the keys to the program’s success,” Alawneh explained. “Our professional development focuses not only on how to use the technology, but also on how to integrate the technology effectively into the learning experience.”

AISD, which uses a “train the trainer” model, provides its teachers with online instructional videos and offers summer professional development courses, all aimed at supporting ongoing education.

To measure the effectiveness of the Innovation Stations, AISD’s IT department uses software to understand how often the technology is used in the classroom. By defining the baseline and monitoring teacher progress, IT can provide additional support to the schools or teachers that may need it, getting the most out of the district’s technology investment.

For districts considering how to standardize classroom technology, AISD and CDW-G offer the following advice:

• Tap into your experts: Work with teachers to understand their needs and how they use – and want to use – technology. Work with vendors to select best-of-breed technology. Work with district stakeholders to understand how the program is working and evolving

• Engage with your students: For AISD, an Innovation Station is about unlocking students’ imaginations with technology. Teachers can stream resources and record their lectures for students to review later. Consider how your students learn and what technologies will help meet your educational goals

• Understand your IT infrastructure: AISD brought together numerous departments, including management support services, server support, telecommunications, desktop support and wide area network, electronics and ET, to ensure that the technology would work seamlessly, right from the start