Scaling Personalization and the New Age of Learning

Maurice Draggon, Senior Director of Digital Learning, Orange County Public Schools

Maurice Draggon, Senior Director of Digital Learning, Orange County Public Schools

Over the last five years, Orange County Public Schools, in Orlando, Florida, has reshaped the digital learning experience of our middle and high school students through the LaunchED program. In three years, every elementary school will also be incorporated.

The LaunchED program is often described as a one-to-one program which focuses on the distribution of one laptop or tablet to our 180,000+ students. But digital learning is about more than a device. The device actually plays a small role in the overall LaunchED program. The wireless at every LaunchED school is upgraded to faster speeds and, when necessary, with newer wireless hardware to ensure the network can accommodate the additional traffic. Additional power outlets are placed at the front of classrooms to give power to an interactive display. Upgraded document cameras were placed in every classroom to show paper-based work on the interactive display. Audio Enhancement microphones and speakers were installed in classrooms to amplify teacher and student voice for clarity and understanding. Digital subscriptions and applications are vetted and purchased to meet the learning needs of students. And, most importantly, teachers receive training and curriculum resources for incorporating digital learning into their pedagogy. 

Taking these steps ensures the learning environment is ready, not for the device, but for the new way students engage with and create curriculum. As teachers teach and students learn, the environment provides the necessary supports for their success.

It may seem counter-intuitive to plan a one-to-one rollout without the device at the center of all considerations. However, device support is not the mission. OCPS mission is to lead students to success. Good teaching in today's environment uses a variety of digital tools to enhance instruction. The aim of our LaunchED program is to connect students to their teachers and each other. It also plugs parents and the community into the classroom through online learning platforms such as our learning management system, Canvas.

Many parents are concerned that their child will spend the school day being drilled by “personalized” programs coded to adjust to their child's level via online Q&A. When digital learning is only about the use of a device, the learning experience suffers. For parents, it is also often a daunting task to keep track of all the systems a school may use to manage their child's learning. OCPS is working to develop a parent portal that will allow parents to log into our student information system and learning management system quickly and easily. This access will, in turn, bring greater clarity to the actual assignments and classwork students are being asked to complete.

Steve Jobs once described computers (technology) as a "bicycle for the mind." The pathway to personalized learning is led by a good teacher and supported by the hardware, software and real-world training for educators and the community at large. A technology-rich environment, through personalized learning, brings us closer than ever to creating classroom environments that are unique "bicycles for the mind" of each individual child. The device is just one piece of the puzzle.

As EdTech continues to grow and even more innovative solutions appear, one key challenge will be not losing focus on the core mission and the environment educators want to create. When digital learning builds on the leadership of teachers and the innovative educational opportunities they provide in their classrooms, student learning is enriched.

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