Dysart Unified School District (AZ) continues to make strides incorporating technology into classrooms under the guidance of Evan Allred, director of information technology. Allred, named Technology Director of the Year by the Arizona Technology in Education Association in 2004, recently led the completion of the district's three-year education technology plan. Student technology literacy is assessed twice a year to a small sampling of students. Employees have VPN access through home computers, accessing district resources through a link on the district Web site. More than 250 teachers have completed both the Intel Essentials Course and the Intel Teach Thinking Course, and the district is developing online course capacity through Moodle.
T&L contributing editor Matt Bolch spoke with Allred about his views on open-source applications and other ways to stretch the technology budget.
How do you keep pace with new technology (hardware and software) during a tight economic climate?
Arizona is currently experiencing budget shortfalls in capital needs, and Dysart has not purchased a computer since 2008. Of our 10,000 desktops and laptops, nearly 5,000 are more than three years old and over 3,000 are more than five years old. We've adjusted in the short term by installing Linux OS and other open source applications on over 3,000 computers to help them run faster and reduce software licensing costs. We anticipate converting another 1,000 computers to Linux within the next 12 months as we attempt to stretch the useful life of what we have.
Another major strategy we are employing is encouraging the use of student-owned, Internet-enabled devices in class including cell phones, iPod touch, etc. In January 2011 we are rolling out comprehensive professional development to our teachers on effectively leveraging these devices in instruction and classroom management strategies. We estimate that about half of our 24,500 K-12 students have access to a personal Internet-enabled device.
Does freeware play a larger role in the curriculum? Why or why not?
Freeware in Dysart continues to play a primary role in our curriculum. Outside of a handful of paid software titles, everything we do in instruction with software is freeware. This includes Web 2.0 tools such as Ning, Blogs, Google Apps, etc. We've chosen this route because of financial constraints and find that freeware often meets or exceeds our instructional needs.
What's the most important technology initiative the district currently is working on?
As described above, encouraging the use of student-owned, Internet-enabled devices in class is our primary current technology initiative. It's all we can afford to do this year.