Name: Bailey Mitchell
Title: Chief Technology & Information Officer
District: Forsyth County Schools, GA
What are your big-picture tech goals?
A challenge for our district is that we ask our students and teachers to engage in three different data systems.
First, we have an SIS for grades, scheduling, the things you would normally associate with an SIS function. Then we have a learning management system where students in our online space can collaborate with other students in an online learning community. They regularly engage in a hybrid learning experience where we blend face-to-face and online. The most exciting thing about our learning management system is that it has evolved to be an integral part of the learning process, and the use has increased. We see it used the most from 3:30 in the afternoon until 11:00 at night, which has essentially extended the school day. Our third system is our standards-based assessment system which we use to deliver benchmark and classroom assessments.
Our challenge is, now that we have these three things, how do we manage the finite amount of teacher time to participate in those systems? Where do you want most of the time to take place? On the instructional and the assessment side? We don’t have a system that blends all three. My goal is to effectively blend those functions together, to create individualized instruction for each student. Part of that development means we have to take our content, which has been very course- and bundle-oriented, and unbundle the content into learning objects that fit into a specific learning plan that matches each student’s learning style and learning preference.
We’ve set out to blend those things that we subscribe to, such as BrainPop, Safari Montage, Explore Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, with learning objects that we develop locally. A lot of items that are in our LMS that are in a learning object form are targeted to specific standards. For example, in the past 8-9 months, we’ve developed 6,700 learning objects with two of our best math and English Language Arts teachers. We’ve partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the use of their Pinpoint school management system to customize a delivery system that targets each student’s individual learning needs and their preferred learning style. We’ve been successful with three separate systems, but these systems are still siloed and not connected in the best way; the data from all three needs to be blended to achieve the best results for students. We can learn from consumer models like Amazon, Netflix, and Pandora.
Tell us about your BYOT initiative.
We’re all in with learning with and from our students. Our goal is to create personalized learning, so for that you have to be connected. We’ve had success by just having the courage to try it. Students can bring in different devices, and we have not had the chaos we expected. The teachers say it works. The students are in control of the device, so they can focus on the teaching.
What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?
The first challenge for the CTO is to have time to be reflective. I work with the CoSN initiative, the Framework of Essential Skills. This framework poses several questions including, “What are your areas of strengths and weaknesses? How are you addressing those areas to do great things?” A good CTO needs to understand the education environment, and you need to be the venture capitalist, the evangelist, and to develop solid relationships. For example, when we tried to launch the BYOT initiative, I realized I wasn’t working hard enough to make that relationship with teaching and learning work. I learned to stop being the bull in the china shop and made a conscious effort to learn more about what it was teachers were trying to accomplish with instruction. You need to give the perception of leadership that everyone is on the same page and working together toward common goals. Since then, we have run into few problems.
What current edtech trends have you jazzed?
My superintendent says don’t waste this education crisis. It’s time for tech leadership across the country to step up to the plate, to communicate to the cabinet level and across your schools that there are incredible efficiencies in fully embracing learning technologies. Now is the time, as the dollars continue to decrease, to laser-focus expenditures. If we spend the money, we have to show the return on learning.