Phillip Dunn, the Chief Information Officer for Greenwich Schools, firmly believes that digital devices have the power to change education for the better.
At present, he is in the process of implementing phase III of the Digital Learning Environment (DLE), a goal of which is to place a device in the hand of every student within the Greenwich Public Schools (GPS). In Phase I, iPads were distributed to the students of Hamilton Avenue and Riverside School. During Phase II, Chromebooks were distributed to sixth-graders across schools within the GPS system.
Mr. Dunn summarized Phase III as the “distribution of a device to [all remaining] elementary school students, middle school students, and high school students by the conclusion of September” of 2015.
Mr. Dunn described that one key consequence of this phase is that classroom dynamics will become more egalitarian. “The technology will have a profound democratizing effect. Each student will be able to participate more equally . . . It will be easier for students who previously did not participate as much to participate in a graded discussion where they write down their opinions.”
At the high school level, Mr. Dunn predicted, students will have to cope less with “latency in the textbook” they use. He defined this “latency” as occurring when students learn from textbooks published some years ago. When Greenwich High students receive Chromebooks during the 2015-16 school year, he explained that they will soon “literally have curricular resources be delivered in real time.”
In the long term, Mr. Dunn emphasized, this development creates the possibility of significant educational innovation. “It’s going to take some years . . . but imagine if you were reading a book written by Ayn Rand and your project about that book was linked to the current election cycle.”
Across schools, Mr. Dunn maintained, steps are being taken to ensure that students understand how to make the most of the devices they are being given.
He elaborated, “We plan to have every student complete a course in digital citizenship this fall . . . At every level, the initiative has specific goals.” These are “to make students critical of all online content, [to ensure] that students can self-regulate their learning, to enable quality feedback in our system, and to personalize learning.”
Asked to predict the disciplines that would be most impacted by the DLE, Mr. Dunn responded that this initiative, rather than simply changing a few subject areas, would create more interdisciplinary learning.
He elaborated, “I think you’re going to have a conversion. In the real world, you don’t have subjects . . . breaking our life up into reading and then math. That doesn’t happen in the real world. As technology allows more access to real world content, the lines between subjects will blur even more.”
As Mr. Dunn continues implementing phase III of the DLE, he noted that he regularly receives feedback on the initiative from other community stakeholders. He explained, “Teachers provide feedback through a number of structures . . . particularly, a Technology Readiness Survey tracking the development of skills in students.” In addition, he meets every two weeks with a Steering Committee that includes “principals, teachers, and people in the operational disciplines,” each of whom “collects feedback in [their] travels.”
Throughout the discussion, Mr. Dunn consistently expressed optimism in the DLE and its power to enhance students’ educational experience. Overall, he stated, “This is an exciting project. It’s incredibly transformational.”