The Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) visiting team that came to campus in late October consisted of educators from independent schools throughout the Midwest. They spent four days with us, assessing the work we had done in our self-study process and providing hundreds of commendations and recommendations about various aspects of our program.
But the centerpiece of the re-accreditation process is the work we did to look at our program — one of those areas was in educational technology.
We started our work with some essential questions: In what ways are developments in technology affecting how our students can learn best? What implications should that have, if any, on how we teach and assess students, what we say in our technology acceptable use policy and how we make policy about academic integrity?
The committee began its work by reading dozens of articles on technology in education and studying the standards set by the International Society for Technology in Education. It looked at extensive surveys of our students, parents and faculty; and it contacted more than a dozen benchmark schools throughout the country to gather data. The committee concluded that there is much that we do incredibly well and — of course — a few things we'd like to do even better.
Certainly one of the strengths of our program is the wealth of technologies that are available to students. We have five distinct computer labs and literally hundreds of laptops and iPads that are available in the library for student use and in each department for classroom use. We have a new educational technology specialist available to assist teachers, and we have the resources to provide whatever technology is most needed for each individual classroom — from smart boards to ceiling-mounted projectors to probes in the lab sciences.
But we also found that curriculum in computer science was not keeping up with student demand. Just four or five years ago, we were still teaching keyboarding in seventh grade. This fall, we revamped the middle school program to teach each new student how to code and each eighth grader how to use the latest software and applications. This fall, we doubled the number of upper school computer science electives, and next fall we will make room to double the enrollment in AP Computer Science.
Over the next year, we will continue to wrestle with the balance between accessibility and climate. We recognize that our students want and need more spaces on campus where they can collaborate using technology, and their lives would be made easier by greater access to practical necessities like printers and Google sites. At the same time, we don't want technology to distract from personal relationships. We love to see our students engaging with one another in the Commons and in the Quadrangle … without their cell phones. We love to see them in their classrooms with their heads up, paying attention to what their teachers have to say and discussing and debating with their classmates. That human interaction is the hallmark of this school, and it's something our students, teachers, parents and alumni cherish.