Teachers in the Texarkana Independent School District are embracing ever-evolving technology through two programs which encourage them to get additional tech training.
TISD uses Chromebook Academy and the Tech Badge program to promote the educators' digital learning. Chromebook Academy, which began in the fall, started gradually about three years ago, said Jennifer Beck, TISD's Coordinator of Secondary Instructional Technology.
"It started small, maybe one classroom received a Chromebook cart as we had the funds and we added another teacher and maybe two more and so it kind of started growing and we're like, we have 12 teachers," she said. "It's a success, so let's continue this in a way to get it out to more."
The academy allows teachers to receive a shared Chromebook cart and Chromebooks, along with personalized training to effectively integrate technology into curriculum and instruction.
"That's really the whole idea," said Kim Icenhower, TISD's coordinator of elementary instruction technology.
Teachers apply for the academy and once accepted are placed in groups of three to four people in cohorts. In those, teachers spend half of the three-month process in face-to-face training, with the other half completed online.
By the end of the year, 107 TISD teachers will have completed the training and 990 devices and 33 carts will be in place district-wide. Administrators say they hope to have 3,000 Chromebooks, 100 carts and more than 100 teachers trained by 2021.
"I think that what sets this program apart is that personalized training that goes along with it," Beck said. "They're not just handed a cart full of devices, but they're getting training so they can effectively use it in the classroom."
"Many times you give a teacher a device and they don't know what to do with it," she said. "We feel like we have really hit the nail on this. We're spent a lot of time with the training, planning the training and doing a lot of research."
Once the teachers are trained, the goal is for those teachers to also become trainers.
"Part of that, we are also getting them Google Educator certified. Part of the academy is they are going to get their level 1 certification. That's going to be their completion," Icenhower said. Right now, TISD has 40 educators who are Google certified. "At the end of this year when cohort two finishes, we will have around 60. Some have gone on to get their level two educator certification. If they have their level one or two, they were exempt from some of the courses we required. That meant they were really proficient at that stuff already."
Beck said they expect the program to have a ripple effect across the district.
"I feel like it's going to be a chain reaction," she said. "They're seeing what's going on in some of those classrooms and then they're going to start applying. We're going to get the application process started probably in the next month for this next year."
A Chromebook Academy summer cohort will also be offered this summer, she added.
For the Tech Badge program, teachers earn badges for specific skills they master. A badge, or sticker, is placed on a board outside the teacher's classroom for each of the 30 Tech Badges. Right now, the district is piloting the program at Highland Park Elementary.
"It's a way for us to celebrate teachers, what they've learned, and it's also a way for them to reach out and ask for training on certain tools and new tools that are coming out," Icenhower said. They came up with the idea last year but waited to roll out the Chromebook Academy first, she added.
Beck said the Tech Badge program will reach not only those who embrace technology but also those who may be a bit hesitant to use it more in the classroom.
"I think it's twofold," she said. "It's to showcase the teachers that are already using the technology, showcase what they are doing with the technology and how it's impacting instruction and also encourage those other teachers who are a little hesitant about technology, try to get them a little excited and give them resources to help them learn that new tool and then earn a badge. We try to make sure we tell them it's not about the badge, that it's really about them. We're just trying to encourage them to use the technology to impact learning. That's what it's really all about."
Icenhower said the Chromebook Academy has been a huge success and that means it's positively affecting students, as well.
"With the individualized training we're giving these teachers, we're helping students to think independently, create and collaborate instead of just consuming," she said. "That is kind of a big thing. We want them to be creators rather than consumers."
For more information on Chromebook Academy, go to txkisd.net.