New Jersey Students Master Technologies, School District Saves Money

Like most educators facing tight fiscal times, Dr. Thomas Gant is always looking to maximize his budget dollars while still providing students with the latest technology to enhance their learning.

As the supervisor of education technology for the Tabernacle (N.J.) School District, Gant is in charge of the technology, its integration for both information and instructional needs and staff professional training among other areas. During the 2008-2009 school year Gant worked with his team to install the Serif Design Suite on every computer in the district. Teachers in the district, which serves approximately 900 kids in kindergarten through eighth grade, use the Suite, which includes Serif’s four leading design tools – PagePlus X3, WebPlus X2, PhotoPlus X2 and DrawPlus X3 – to add elements of the technology curriculum into every subject area.

“Technology will always be a means to reinforce the curriculum that is being taught. Technology is a tool to guide learning; it creates a bridge for 21st century ideologies. The Serif Design Suite is a valuable means to practice and further challenge higher level thinking to what is being done in the classroom,” said Gant. “When students leave our district they are proficient in technology and ready for high school.”

The suite of programs includes applications to enable classes to integrate technologies such as bitmap and vector drawing, animation, desktop and web publishing into their lessons.

Some of the younger students at Tabernacle Elementary School are using DrawPlus to create cartoon animations with captions. Older students at Kenneth R. Olson Middle School are using WebPlus to create web sites that are digital portfolios of much of their projects from throughout the year. Some students are even creating basic wikis, topic-based web pages akin to electronic encyclopedias that are editable by anyone with network access, and linking to each other’s projects. The projects help eighth-graders meet New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards for computer literacy and guide instruction into the 21st century.

“The kids find it fun. I am experiencing first-hand that they are more excited in the lessons that use Serif’s products than previous classes have been with those same lessons,” said Gant.

Some other projects using the Serif Design Suite have included:
• History: Classes use PhotoPlus to recreate the past, adding pictures of students into historical images.
• Language arts: Fourth-graders have used PagePlus and DrawPlus to create their own postcards while learning about writing techniques.
• Science: Students import streaming video and their original video clips onto web sites which they created with WebPlus.

Some teachers are also using WebPlus to create class web sites, hosted on a secure server, where students can find homework assignments, links to additional readings and teacher-authored blog postings.

“We look at technology as a means to bridge learning about a topic. It enhances what is being taught. Students might film and edit a movie, then import that video into a PowerPoint presentation and next post those slides on their web site,” said Gant. “In high school, for example, they have the option of taking more advanced web design classes. The Serif Design Suite very quickly has showed itself to be a beneficial tool for our students, as they study the technologies that will prepare them for future studies and their adult life.”

Beyond the benefits to the curriculum, the Serif Design Suite has proven itself to be a smart purchase, Gant said. Tabernacle’s teachers do not need to waste time in lengthy training courses learning to use the Design Suite’s software programs. All items such as icons and toolbars follow the same format between programs and many functions are point-and-click. As a result, the teachers who are using this software are more self-assured when they integrate the programs into a lesson, and they know they will not waste classroom time showing the students how to get up and running.

“Seeing the confidence it gives our teachers who use this software is the best feeling,” said Gant. “You learn one Serif program, and it’s very easy to understand and work with the other ones. That’s not always true of software products from the same manufacturer. I bought the Design Suite because, especially with my background as a web designer, I knew it would be a program my staff would find easier to learn. That translates to teachers utilizing the program in their classes more often, which makes it a good value.”

Also, Serif has no minimum requirement for the amount of memory needed to run the programs on a computer, so in theory the district can get more use out of older machines, Gant said.

“Everybody’s got a specific amount of money to spend. In this economy today, you should look at the price and the quality of the program you are getting,” said Gant, who spent on Serif nearly a quarter of the amount he previously spent on a more complex design program in another district. “I don’t feel like I am sacrificing quality, and I would not feel right as a district supervisor putting that money toward a lesser program. But, I do want to get the most out of every dollar we spend and be able to spend money elsewhere for our children.”