Tina Ding
Tanna Kincaid interacts with one of her students. (MaBelle Photography)

Jamie Levingston

Tanna Kincaid

Infusing technology into the classroom supports student equity in completing tasks, searching for current resources and more. Locally, Bismarck and Mandan public schools recognize a responsibility in preparing students for a future in which technology skills will be demanded of them.

In our ever-changing world, students enjoy a variety of devices for recreation; but having online access can also be critical to maintaining a constant flow of information for learning. Local schools exist under an umbrella of Wi-Fi, allowing for communication between students and teacher in class as well as for reaching out to the Internet for research. Textbooks are often downloadable and standardized tests are offered online.

Bismarck Public Schools Technology Director Tanna Kincaid sees technology evolving. She recognizes the realities and importance of utilizing the Internet for student learning. "The Internet provides an equalizer in access. Regardless of economics or where students live, they have access to information."

Further, Kincaid said, "We are working to synthesize information in order to bring it to the next level: critical thinking. When students are grappling with information, it generates discussion -- which results in a better understanding. In the process, we strive to figure out the balance."

Bismarck Public Schools utilizes a learning management system (LMS), a portal where teachers may post assignments, documents and links. Students access the system for the purpose of retrieving an assignment or completing and potentially submitting homework. "BPS has been using Google Apps for Education and that is our primarily cloud-based office suite; the state now has Office 365, and we have that available as another choice," she said. "Students can access information through their phones or other small devices, if wanted."

Jamie Levingston, Core Technology Integration Coordinator for Mandan Public Schools, concurs. He sees a practical use for students and educators to have a learning management system. "Here we open up opportunity for teachers to post his/her videos or flipcharts, notes and content used in a course; and that, in turn, becomes fully accessible to students," Levingston said. "Teachers not only post lessons, but retrieve uploaded information or assignments from students. Submission is electronic instead of hard copy. In the process, we are facilitating learning through the use of devices."

In cases where online access is limited or unavailable, the device has the ability to download the tools needed for students to achieve success. Levingston said, "With Office 365, the web version is available, as is the application itself. Students will have the best of both worlds."

Mandan Public Schools Technology Educator, Julie Kautzmann, finds there is a push toward a flipped classroom model. "We see it's doable at the high school level. This could really be an asset in the classroom," she said. "It's a change in thinking. A shift in learning. However, the finding is that the LMS (learning management system) will facilitate the flipped classroom."

Not only will students gain access, but they will be able to do so from home, as Mandan students are moving toward a 1:1 student to device ratio. Under the project name 'Ignite 2020', Mandan Public School District holds a plan or expectation that all students will eventually hold their own device. "The device will be issued to a student for an entire year, specific to that child. Devices will be first issued to high school students Fall 2016; with the plan to follow up with middle school issued devices by Fall 2017; and finally, elementary aged students Fall 2018," Levingston said. "The plan for Ignite 2020 is that students in grades 3 - 12 will carry their device to and from school."

Students build presentations with slideshows, develop posters to include their written response to research, link video clips or websites and insert photos. Additionally, students may participate in online classroom discussion portals initiated by the teacher - gaining immediate potential for feedback. Bismarck students find their documents by logging in through a portal. Mandan students log in through Office 365 to gain access.

Standardized assessment, such as MAP testing or NWEA, are completed on computers or other devices. When student to device ratio is supportive, teachers may provide the testing experience right inside the classroom, versus in a computer lab. "Teachers report they enjoy the flexibility to pause an assessment and return at a later time," Kincaid said. "Everything from research tells us students do best in the environment they know best. This provides that opportunity."

Digital experiences and digital technology begin early. IPads are found in Early Childhood Special Education classrooms (preschool) on up. While the wee ones learn mouse navigation and cause/effect relationships through various recreational apps, primary elementary students may be typing their written stories online. Upper elementary enjoys researching and developing simple slideshow presentations, while middle school students discover ways to develop interactive posters, advanced slideshows with links, and insertion of moving images. In high school, well -- the sky's the limit.

Tina Ding is a teacher, freelance writer and grad school student with plenty of time for her husband and three children. She also loves photography, scrapbooking, reading and traveling.