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Inaugural Watauga County Schools Technology Showcase Highlights Educational Benefits

Nov. 27, 2013. The first-ever Watauga County Schools Technology Showcase on Nov. 19 demonstrated some of the many ways in which teachers are using instructional technology to enrich classroom learning and strengthen student achievement in local schools. The Showcase featured students and teachers from each school in the WCS system.

Their smiles show that Kade Maiden and Madison Combs think instructional technology is a fun way to learn.

In her introductory remarks, Director of Elementary Education Tamara Stamey said, “The Watauga County Schools system has always been not just at the curve, but ahead of the curve in the application of instructional technology. Tonight is a celebration of what our teachers have achieved in using this technology to create lessons that engage students, enrich learning, and prepare our graduates for success in college and in their careers.”

A video on the use of instructional technology in local schools followed the opening remarks. Teachers quoted in the video cited numerous advantages in using technology with their students. One prominent theme in their remarks was the value of having immediate online access to a vast range of educational resources,  including many periodicals and scholarly journals, a wealth of special educational software tailored to specific subjects, instructional videos for most parts of the curriculum, and a seemingly unlimited number of websites offering data and resources for student research.

Several teachers also emphasized that the benefits of technology are not limited to faster access to a much broader range of information. As an instructional tool, technology makes it possible to offer both more individualized instruction and more collaborative learning. When appropriate, students can work on materials at their own level and their own pace on an individual computer. This allows each student to master the material in the way that is most effective for him or her, and it helps all students reach their potential more effectively and more efficiently than traditional classroom instruction alone.

When students work in teams, the use of instructional technology and applications such as Google Docs allow students to see and comment on each other’s work, facilitating teamwork and a more creative, engaged learning process that better reflects and develops the skills needed in most workplaces. Through Skype and other means, students can also work with and learn from students and teachers in other schools, other states, and even other countries on a routine basis.

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Fourth graders Eli Giles and Sophie Beach helped demonstrate the value of instructional technology.

English teacher Sarah Kanipe spoke of how the appropriate use of instructional technology “makes students more self-sufficient, active, and skilled 21st century learners and citizens.”

While businesses and government always need students with strong basic skills in writing and speaking and a solid foundation in math and science, the skills that prepare students for continued success and advancement are often less tangible and less tested. The capacities for collaboration and for creative problem solving are more highly valued than ever by today’s employers. Instructional technology can enable students to practice these skills more often and more efficiently than has ever been possible before – but only when and where it is available.

In addition to highlighting the many uses and advantages of instructional technology, the Showcase also provided an update on the current level of technology in schools and the untapped potential to leverage its benefits on a larger scale. Darcy Grimes, the 2012-13 NC Teacher of the Year and current instructional technology facilitator at Bethel and Mabel, pointed out that access to instructional technology is uneven in local schools and across the state.

Locally, Watauga High School is in its fourth year of providing a laptop computer for each student and teacher and the school has a robust network to support their use. Most of the K-8 schools rely on a combination of computer labs with 5-8 year old desktop computers plus a handful of laptops and tablet computers that can be brought to classrooms for specific lessons. Nearly all classrooms have wireless network connections and projectors that enable students to access online resources, but the capacity and speed of school networks varies, and the limited availability of individual devices for students still restricts the use of instructional technology in most schools.

While praising what is already being achieved with instructional technology, Grimes and Stamey agree that additional progress is needed.

“We want to do more and to put more resources in the hands of our students and teachers,” said Stamey. “With more widespread availability of instructional technology, we could provide more customized instruction, greater opportunities for collaborative learning, faster access to a wider range of learning resources, and better preparation for our students to be career and college ready after high school. This isn’t just a budget issue, but that’s an important part of it, and funding for additional technology is an issue we have to address if we’re going to get our students to the next level.”

In addition to teachers, students, principals, and representatives of the Watauga Board of Education and WCS central office, the Technology Showcase was attended by personnel from Appalachian State University, the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, Caldwell Community College, Skyline/Skybest, and the Watauga Education Foundation.