To lay the groundwork for empowering teachers in the classroom, the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence (CSCOE) is investing in schools to ensure a common level of access to basic technology tools. This spring, all grade schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had the opportunity to request a seed grant of $10,000 to provide their teachers with the devices and network infrastructure needed to excel in classroom instruction.
“As we did our studies across the schools, one of the key things that showed up was there’s a lot of disparity in access to strong technology tools between large and small schools –– and also rural and urban schools,” said Eric LaMott, CSCOE’s chief enrollment officer. “One of the things we know about technology is it’s the great equalizer.”
Over the past year, CSCOE’s technology partner, Tierney Brothers, Inc., visited schools to evaluate technology resources. The Twin Cities-based company works with a variety of clients — from Fortune 500 companies to nonprofits like CSCOE — to find interactive solutions to communications issues.
“What I would say was common, very common, was that each school knew they needed to do something, but they didn’t necessarily know what it was,” said Ryan Semans, who led the project at Tierney Brothers. Semans and his team were able to provide specific recommendations in light of each school’s mission and pedagogical goals.
Semans noted that many schools had already invested in devices but lacked the network infrastructure to use them effectively. The latest Chromebooks and iPads don’t foster effective teaching if they aren’t reliable in certain rooms or at certain times of the day, or, if only a few users can access the Internet at any given time.
More than 70 schools have requested and received the $10,000 grant from CSCOE. Many will use the grant money to make network improvements and replace outdated teacher computers in preparation for the upcoming school year. CSCOE continues to work with schools that need additional resources to meet basic technology needs.
LaMott emphasized that the goal isn’t to have shiny new devices or high-speed bandwidth for their own sake; these tools are just the “pen and paper” that enable teachers to focus on their real goal — providing excellent learning experiences in the classroom.
Beginning this summer, CSCOE will offer professional development opportunities, where teachers can learn strategies and share innovative ideas for leveraging technology in the classroom. LaMott said this is the phase he’s excited about.
“That shared conversation — that’s the real gem we’re actually targeting,” he said. “The technology just happens to be an underlying tool set to open that door.”