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Digital Wish School Modernization Initiative Spans over 50 Schools
Posted by Heather Chirtea at 05:01:00 PM Fri 02/13/2015
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Manchester Center, VTJanuary 10, 2014 - For the past six years, Digital Wish has been studying the process of implementing one-computer-per-child programs in Vermont and New Hampshire schools, as well as teaching Digital Citizenship across 50 sites.  As a non-profit on a mission to bring technology to American classrooms, trainers have spent years delivering computers, weekly educator and student trainings, a complete IT curriculum, and support to schools across Vermont and New Hampshire.  In addition, the Digital Citizenship training reached a major milestone spanning 50 schools in VT, NH, NY, and CA.

The team developed a 7-unit Technology Curriculum based on ISTE’s NETS standards that easily meshes together with the core topics.  Eric Bird, Project Director, said, “In order for a technology curriculum to be successful, it has to be non-invasive.  Teachers can’t just drop their core subjects and teach technology as a separate subject.  Technology has to work together with their regular lesson plan regimen.”

The gem of the program is clearly the Digital Citizenship unit, which raised student understanding from 26% to 96% in just 3 class periods. Read the research: http://bit.ly/19eGWHj.  The data clearly demonstrates the need for wide scale training on digital citizenship.

  • 20% of the schools we enter already have a student in trouble for a safety infraction.

  • 88% of the teachers reported some level of discomfort with Digital Citizenship issued. That means they aren’t teaching it,

  • 74% of students answered "No" when asked "Do you know what it means to be a good digital citizen?"

As a result, the next phase of the program will center on development of a self-paced curriculum for digital citizenship that be leveled for elementary, middle, high school, and businesses.

Beginning in 2008, Digital Wish embarked on a year-long academic study to research successful and failed 1:1 computing initiatives.  This intensive research period resulted in the identification of eight essential components which must be addressed in order to build a sustainable 21st century learning program, including leadership, investment, hardware, connectivity, training, curriculum, IT support, and community engagement.  The team discovered the absence of even one component creates a much higher risk of new initiatives failing downstream.  

Pilot Phase
With endorsements from major educational associations of principals, school boards, superintendents, IT coordinators, NEA teachers union, and training centers, Digital Wish raised $152,000 from private foundations like the A.D. Henderson Foundation to fund four pilot sites in the 2009-2010 school year.  Across the pilot classrooms, trainers experimented with sharing computers between students, employing mobile labs and computer carts, and creating comprehensive 1:1 computing environments.  Because the Digital Wish team found that learning gains were so much greater in schools using one-computer-per-child, they abandoned shared computing and mobile computer lab models altogether, and pledged to only support 1:1 initiatives at scale.  


2009-10 Pilot Data

Early data demonstrated the importance of making one-device-per-child strategies a top priority for schools.

  • 73% of students agree that schoolwork is more enjoyable when using a computer.

  • 85% of students report that they produce better work and pay closer attention to lessons when they use a computer.

  • 95% of students report that it is important to have their own computer at school.

  • Technology utilization doubled and even tripled across subjects for students and teachers, with the largest utilization increases in English and research.

  • Within 3 months, comfort levels with computing increased in every classroom.

  • 86% of students say they get work done more quickly when using a computer.

  • 85% of students report that having technology in school is important to their future.

Through these early pilot stages, Digital Wish gathered the resources and support necessary to scale the initiative.  According to Heather Chirtea, Digital Wish’s Executive Director, “It’s extraordinarily difficult to develop a successful technology initiative from scratch because there are just so many decision points.  Every school we entered in the pilot phase was facing the same issues, making the same kinds of decisions, and making the same mistakes in isolation.  It was an incredible waste of time and resources.  We’ve implemented so many sites now, that we can explain the downstream ramifications of nearly every decision and prevent schools from taking a wrong turn very early in the process.  These lessons can be easily scaled across the state and the country.” In fact, many schools now ask Digital Wish to consult and help them through planning their technology programs.

Implementation Phase
In partnership with the Vermont Council on Rural Development, Microsoft, Dell, and many others, Digital Wish was awarded $1.125 million in stimulus funding to implement their School Modernization Initiative across 24 more schools through the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project.  The trainers constructed seven curriculum units based on the NETS technology standards.  Digital Wish teachers entered 24 schools to teach both educators and students how to safely and efficiently use current technologies to learn and demonstrate their knowledge.  “The first site took eighteen months of planning from our first contact with the school, to passing out computers in the classroom,” said Heather Chirtea, Executive Director of Digital Wish.  “Our 30th deployment reduced the entire planning process down to just four weeks!  We have systematized everything possible from press releases, parent letters, and policy documents to curriculum.”  These curriculum units are now available nationally as individual units, or as part of the Digital Wish’s IT Curriculum Series


2010-12 Implementation Data 

During the Implementation Phase, survey data was collected from 719 teachers and students from 24 schools.  Download the full report here.  The bulk of the data reflects the differences in responses between the pre- and post- initiative surveys.  Listed here are some interesting gains reported during the implementation phase:

  • Workforce Prep - 93% of students say having technology in school is important in preparing them for the future.

  • Importance - 90% of students say that it is important to their education to have their own computer during the school year.

  • Internet Safety - Over 50% more teachers reported they are now very comfortable with Internet research and safety, increasing from 40% to 63%.

  • Skills - Teachers say that less than half as many students are considered beginners with computers.  They consider approximately 1/3 more students to be advanced computer users.

  • College - Students who plan to go to college increased from 89.1% to 90.7%, a 1.6% increase.

  • Frequency - The number of students who use a computer every day in the classroom more than doubled the pre-initiative levels, increasing from 24% to 52%.

  • Collaboration - The number of teachers who are now comfortable with collaborating with peers, parents, and/or students using digital tools increased from 83% to 93%, a 10 percentage point increase.

Not all gains were measurable though, and teachers commonly reported a wide array of anecdotal gains:

  • Students are fully engaged.

  • Students take better care of equipment.

  • Computer breakage rates are lower.

  • Behavioral infractions have been significantly reduced.

  • Students are becoming technologically fluent 2-3 times faster.  

  • A peer-coaching dynamic has emerged.

  • New student leaders have begun to develop from all levels of the social strata.

  • Some of the largest gains have been made by low-achieving students.

“It was a real treat to see the changes in these classrooms firsthand,” said Eric Bird, Project Director for the Digital Wish School Modernization Initiative.  “When we began, most classrooms had only a few outdated computers. We put a computer on each child's desk. I’ve seen enormous gains in student engagement. You really don’t understand how important this is until you find out that the decision to drop out of school is made at the middle school level.  We’re raising engagement levels with students in grades 4-6, hopefully before the decision to drop out ever gets a chance to take root.”

Bird continued, “Students and teachers have become technologically fluent very rapidly; learning independently and solving real world issues.  We implemented a unit where students were challenged to create their own business ideas.  For many students, this was the first time that they had ever envisioned themselves as entrepreneurs.  It’s a real game changer as students plan their future.”

Replication Phase
The replication phase included 12 schools from the implementation phase as well as 1-2 new school added annually in an urban environment in Nashua, NH funded by a grant from Dell Powering the Possible.  The same resources that were developed during the implementation phase were then used to replicate the program the following year.

“It’s amazing how rapidly we’ve worked through the planning process,” said Sheila Marcoux, Digital Wish’s technology integrator for Nashua.  “All of the planning, documentation, usage guidelines, permission forms, and tough decisions were already mapped out.”   

2012-14 Replication Phase Data
Survey data was collected for three successive year with demonstrated gains across all technology areas. Classroom trainers were able to compress training times, and achieve higher gains than previous years - in a shorter period of time. Download the study here: http://bit.ly/1KTcUo7

Key data points include:

  • Ethical and Legal Issues - When asked to rate their understanding of the ethical and legal issues involved in copyright, 67% of students responded that they are now an expert.  Prior to the 1:1 Initiative, 62% said that they did NOT understand copyright issues at all.

  • Media Awareness - Prior to Digital Citizenship, 20% of students had no idea what types of media they could not access online.  78% now consider themselves experts.

  • Increasing Intent to Attend College - The number of students who were NOT planning on attending college dropped from 6.8% to 4.3%, over the school year.

  • Increased Problem Solving - 51% of students have participated in 10+ hours of technology projects where they had to solve a problem, gather information, or draw a conclusion.  The previous year, 38% of students said that they participated in NONE of these technology projects.

  • Engagement - 73% of students prefer to use a computer to do their schoolwork, and 89% say using a computer makes schoolwork easier.  86% of students enjoy school more when they use technology, and 73% enjoy school more when their teacher uses technology to teach lessons.

  • Rising Engagement - 100% of the teachers surveyed report that they and their students are very enthusiastic about the Digital Wish Program.  Teachers report that students are three times more highly engaged when creating digital artwork, word processing, and creating presentations than before Digital Wish’s 1:1 Initiative.  The greatest changes in engagement were for creating presentations and writing.

  • Increasing Comfort - Teachers are now twice as comfortable using technology to produce videos, create and give presentations, and create digital artwork, learning to use a new form of technology, learning to use a new computer program, and redesigning a lesson plan so that it integrates technology.

  • Decreasing Behavioral Infractions - 100% of teachers report that they only need to send students out of their classroom for disruptive behavior 0-1 times per week, as opposed to 4-5 times pre-initiative.


Community Impact - Cultural Shift

With one-computer-per-child initiatives implemented across 28 sites in 2 states the trainers began noticing a cultural shift taking place in the schools.  Staff, administrators, and community members were rapidly shifting their assumptions about the need for technology in classrooms.  Computers were no longer something that “someone else” had to deal with.  Instead, they became an assumed part of every learning experience. In a post-mortem evaluation of the original 2009-2010 pilot schools, all of them had scaled up their technology programs within 12 months of Digital Wish’s arrival.  One town voted to increase their school’s technology budget from $5,000 to $50,000 in the following school year – ten times their amount originally allotted for educational technology.

Anecdotal Gains
In addition to the measurable improvements, teachers and students provided anecdotes on their experiences:

  • “We NEED technology in school because it is the only way we will know how to use a computer in middle school, high school, college, and most importantly our jobs!”

  • “I taught my dad how to use and do an AMAZING PowerPoint. When I taught my dad PowerPoint he did something about his work and now when you first come in his work you see a TV that has his power point on it.”

  • “My favorite thing was that I could teach my parents to be safe on the internet.”

  • “Technology is important; its importance will only increase in the future. Almost everyone has a job that involves at least typing or researching things on the computer.

Eric Bird, Digital Wish Project Director said, “It is truly amazing to see such transformative results in a relatively short amount of time. I'm literally watching accelerated growth as students and educators expand their problem solving skills and technology engagement across their daily tasks. Many students are regularly mentoring their parents and peers.”

After-School Programs

In addition to classroom training during the school day, 196 students from 11 of the 13 replication schools participated in after school programs on computer programming.  High school students and even Dell employees acted as mentors to elementary school students to help them create video games using Microsoft Kodu and Expression Web. 

Sky Kocheneur, an after-school trainer said, “I taught the students the basics of computer game programming, and by the end of the first sessions students were teaching me new skills!  We just get them started and they naturally build upon the basic skills.”  Trainer, Sheila Marcoux added, “You could see their critical thinking and problem solving skills advance with each session.”

In addition, the Digital Wish after-school program was supplemented by field trips to Dell and onsite career-exploration.  The corporate engagement brought a "real world" interface to the initiative that simply couldn't be taught in the conventional classroom. After listening to a diverse array of executives talk about their different jobs Digital Wish trainers heard many comments like, "I'm going to work at Dell when I get older!"

Data Demonstrates Scaled Need for Digital Citizenship Training

Heather Chirtea said, “Right off the bat, we discovered understanding of Digital Citizenship issues was frighteningly low.  20% of the schools we entered already had a student in trouble for a safety infraction, and 88% of the teachers reported some level of discomfort with Digital Citizenship issued. That means they aren’t teaching it.”

In one school only 7% of students even understood Digital Citizenship at the start of the program.  The data was clearly demonstrating that the wide scale lack of understanding of digital citizenship concepts was at crisis levels.  So Digital Wish expanded just the Digital Citizenship curriculum to 14 more schools in Vermont and New Hampshire.  The result was immediate, comprehensive, and achieved near 100% proficiency.

Chirtea continued, “The whole team was stunned when we saw these data improvements.  Understanding of Digital Citizenship went up from 26% to 96%, and we were able to replicate that success across 14 schools in just 3 class periods.” Read the Nashua report.

Next Phase

In the 2015-16 school year - Digital Wish will pursue grants to expand the digital citizenship training course for nationwide scale.  Initial funding has already been secured to develop a digital citizenship "certification" curriculum for middle school students.  Essentially, students have to pass the 3-hour course in order to be allowed to add their personal device to the school's internet network (enabling "Bring Your Own Device").  The course enables schools to allow hundreds of student-owned devices onto their networks, and dramatically increases internet access in the classroom environment for students.  At the same time, BYOD reduces the school's cost of hardware purchases necessary to ensure information access for every child in learning.

According to Chirtea "We're envisioning a certification course for Digital Citizenship that can be scaled. It will not only make the internet safer for kids, but it will solve the lack-of-internet-access problem in classrooms, and at the same time take a big bite out of the hardware shortfall in schools. Schools won't have to buy a device for every student, because frankly, most kids would rather use their own devices."

About Digital Wish

Learn more about Digital Wish's research and download more reports here:

·        Digital Citizenship:  http://digitalwishes.wordpress.com/research/digital-citizenship/   
·        1:1 Computing: http://digitalwishes.wordpress.com/research/11-computing
·        Sustainability: http://digitalwishes.wordpress.com/research/sustainability


Digital Wish Media Contact:
Jennifer Miller, [email protected]
Digital Wish
PO Box 255
Milton, DE 19968

Tags: Digital Citizenship, 1:1 Computing