Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance was named one of 10 White House Connected Educator Champions of Change in 2013 and one of eight eSchool News Tech-Savvy Superintendents in 2014. Baltimore County Public Schools is the 26th largest school system in the United States with 173 schools, programs and centers. Blackboard had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Dance, a distinguished Blackboard Partner, about his district’s exciting digital conversion initiative.

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Blackboard: What is the digital conversion initiative?

DD: The digital conversion initiative is our way of transforming teaching and learning at each of our schools. We looked at it in terms of eight different conversions: instruction, curriculum, assessments, professional development, budget, policy, infrastructure and communications. We are intending to move to a 1:1 environment in grades K-12 over the next five years.

Blackboard: How do you think this digital conversion is going to help students learn?

DD: We believe that if we are meeting students where they are, allowing them to use technology tools they already use, it will increase the level of student engagement. We have schools where teachers are already imbedding lessons on laptops, tablets or smartphones. So our job now is to see how to make that school scale.

Blackboard:  How do you think the role of teachers will change?

DD: We have great teachers in our classrooms right now; the reality for us is if we’re really serious about this work, teachers will become facilitators, where students will actually be working harder than their teachers.

Blackboard: Can you tell us more about the rollout and how you’re piloting the program?

DD: We’re starting in elementary schools next year. We’re piloting with 10 schools that we will call “lighthouse schools.” We have an application process where 80 percent of the faculty at the school has to be on board with it. The more buy-in you receive, the better chance you have of the program working. 

Blackboard: When will the teachers get the devices and the professional development?

DD: There’s been a lot of curriculum professional development that’s gone on over the course of this year, but we really want teachers and principals to start their learning this summer. I was a teacher and principal in a 1:1 environment. If you really want to make sure it’s sustainable, you have to build technology into your curriculum.

Blackboard: How are you going to evaluate the success of the program?

DD: We’ll be looking at the quality—results we’ve gotten from interviews with teachers, students and parents around the level of engagement. For example: Has the level of student engagement changed in classrooms? We’re also working with our research department to put together a quantitative review where we measure the level of student engagement. With our new infrastructure we’ll be able to measure the number of devices that are actually in students’ hands and being used on a daily basis because their IP address will hit the network at some point. We’ll also be able to measure the speed of the access as well as student-teacher interactions that are happening via some technology or portal that’s technology-based. We also want to have our student assessments imbedded so we can see the number of assessments students are taking online, the percent pass rate and how long it’s taking to get those results back to kids too.

Blackboard: How are you planning to address changing technology?

DD: We know that it’s more advantageous for us as a school system to lease rather than purchase so teachers are getting refreshed every four years. Teachers are always staying up to date in terms of what is the cutting edge.

Blackboard: Where are you getting the funding for the devices?

DD: We’ve looked at our tech budget, our instruction budget, our textbook budget, our instructional supplies budget, and we’ve been able to find several ways to redirect funds over the next several years in order to make sure that it happens.

Blackboard: What acceptable use policies do you plan on having?

DD: The biggest thing is the filtering system and making sure that whenever a student goes on a computer it connects to our own internal filter.

Blackboard: What is your process for informing parents and students about the digital conversion?

DD: We’ve done quarterly Public Service Announcements about the work, but we’re also doing a big launch this winter where we will tie it all together for folks. We’ve also talked about the training, preparing parents and families when they’re preparing to get their units, but also the training that’s required for students. There’ll be a lot of face-to-face training and a lot of webinar training using Blackboard Collaborate to help everyone become familiar with the conversion.

For more information on how Blackboard can help your district go digital, contact us today.

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