Guest post by Bill Nimmons, IT Director of Leon County Schools, Tallahassee, Florida
In Leon County Schools, our vision is to provide a competitive, 21st century learning environment that provides engaging, differentiated and individualized instruction for our students. We also believe it is important to extend the learning environment beyond the regular school day to support learning as an on-going process. This vision sets the standard for providing our teachers with what they need to empower our 34,000 students with necessary 21st century skills that prepare them for the competitive, global workforce of tomorrow. We believe a successful 1:1 mobile learning program is a crucial part of that vision.
When Leon County Schools started our journey toward a 1:1 initiative, we created a mobile learning committee to discuss, research, and evaluate how other districts have approached 1:1 mobile programs. We wanted to learn about their success, and — just as important — their failures.
As we evaluated the different options available, it became clear that the operating system that offered us the most flexibility was Windows 8.
See our story:
Why Windows 8? When Leon County Schools set out to become a 1:1 school district, we did so with our teachers as our number-one focus. What will they teach? How can we minimize any disruptions to teachers and students in the classroom? For us, it was about the curriculum, not the technology. Key to this approach was choosing an operating system that minimized the need for additional training by our teachers and students, allowed us to use existing curriculum and applications without limitations and minimized the need to retrain technical staff on additional software to support our 1:1 environment — all things that Windows 8 allows us to do.
Carlos Fernandez, Coordinator of Instructional Technology at Leon County Schools, says, "We wanted to make sure that the tools were familiar to our teachers but were also relevant to students. We wanted to use the proper tools, like Microsoft Office, like Office 365 and OneNote in collaboration with other web applications, so our students can get different flavors of content, interactivity, and engagement." The beauty of Microsoft Windows 8 is that it allows us to take advantage of the business class tools we already use and own today.
By definition, any school district that makes the move to 1:1 significantly increases the number of devices that must be maintained and managed on a daily basis. This can mean an even greater investment beyond the devices, something many 1:1 implementations fail to take into account. Windows 8 allows Leon County District to continue to use the technology we've already invested in like Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) for managing devices across the network and Microsoft Systems Center for Endpoint Protection (virus protection software).
Equally important was having maximum flexibility in the types of devices we could use in our 1:1 program. What may work at the elementary school level may not be the same device that you want to use at the secondary school level. Windows 8 provides the flexibility to select devices based upon your specific need at a particular grade level and at a price you can afford. Regardless of the device chosen (laptop, tablet, or other device) we know that our district-supported curriculum is available, we have the infrastructure in place to manage the Windows 8 environment, and our teachers, students, and staff are already familiar with the Microsoft environment that we use today.
How is it working? "You see students, and the light goes on," says Scotty Crowe, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. "They're engaged, they're excited, and they're using devices." At Augusta Raa Middle School, Principal Giselle Marsh noted, "It is our job as educators to ensure we are presenting them [students] with information but in a 21st century way." At Buck Lake Elementary, fourth grade teacher Alexandra Adams noted that since the Windows 8 devices were deployed, "Learning is fun for them now – it takes them to them to the next level.”
Leon County Schools in Tallahassee, Florida launched the initial phase of our 1:1 digital initiative during the 2013-2014 school year. Watch this video to learn about the district's objectives for the initiative, hear initial student reactions and learn why the decision was made to standardize on the Microsoft Windows 8 platform and Office 365.
We are proud to join the ranks of many other great U.S. school districts who are forging 1:1 mobile learning paths including Miami-Dade Public School District, West Virginia Department of Education, Chester County School District, Fresno Unified School District, Baltimore County School District, and Houston Independent School District.
Innovating in education is about more than just the device, and Microsoft not only understands this, they provide training, support, collaboration and a true partnership in learning. As Carlos Fernandez says, "Microsoft helps us empower education. Leon County Schools now has the right 1:1 mobile learning tools in place, and that's leading to huge success."
– Bill Nimmons, IT Director of Leon County Schools, Tallahassee, Florida