Too often, reviews of edtech fall short of reality. Sure, speeds and feeds are important to consider, but how does this stuff work in the real world? T&L will try to answer that question this school year when our editors follow the stakeholders at Village Charter School (VCS) in Trenton, NJ as they implement Pearson’s SuccessMaker software on a 40-seat Dell PC desktop network. For a full, comprehensive look at the project, including specific product details and costs, a profile on VCS, supplemental resources, etc., go to techlearning.com and click on The Long Review.
With an early morning Powerpoint presentation in front of them and a day-long workshop still ahead, the staff at Village Charter school would have been forgiven if they were less than enthusiastic. Just one week before start of school, there were certainly plenty of other things to be done to get ready. Or one last beach day perhaps?
But the school’s new media labs were packed with bright eyes and big smiles. Ross Hunter, Pearson’s regional educational consultant for curriculum, led staff through a demo of Successmaker’s interface. The teachers were the students this morning: learning how to navigate the login procedure; following along on a reading comprehension quiz; patiently enduring the teenspeak that Successmaker’s video narrators use during interludes to keep kids engaged.
To many in attendance, the Pearson/Dell experiment was a surprise. In years past, says Leigh Byron, Head of School for Village Charter, new technology implementations like this would have put many faculties on the defensive. But this group was energized, asking pertinent question with even a few oohs and ahhs thrown in. “It exceeded my expectations,” says Byron. “Teachers were excited about the project before they even sat for the initial session. It was really amazing, as almost all of them had no experience with the program.”
Of course, one day does not make for anyone’s true professional development, especially when it comes to a holistic solution like curriculum software. Mastering the classroom presentation tools is one thing, interpreting analytic reports is quite another. “In my career, which spans decades, I have known teachers who wouldn’t know a percentile from a kitchen tile,” says Byron. “And they are not going to come out in the middle of the faculty lounge and proclaim that ‘I don’t know what that means.’”
That truism makes Pearson’s professional development offerings one of its strongest features (and explains much of the program’s significant costs). Hunter will be on call with the school throughout the year with onsite visits at least once a month. He will work with both Byron and the faculty to have a continuous conversation, for continuous learning and gaining an expertise. Says Byron: “You have to give them a little bit at a time, incrementally, because this software is so comprehensive. If you take small steps, then you can see the successes as they occur and you’ll want to be even more successful. The way the Pearson team has begun to implement this plan has been impressive.”