EDUCATION and INNOVATION
Back in August, when the 2016-17 school year was set to begin, there weren't any teachers in Lee County using Canvas, a cloud-based digital classroom management and teaching tool that's on the cutting edge of learning technology.
Just a few months later, through a program the district has dubbed “Innovation Nation,” Lee County High School alone boasts 17 teachers using the technology, with more likely on the way.
“I sat down and created action items and a timeline and I rolled with it,” said Josh Frielich, a Lee County art teacher who made it his goal through Innovation Nation to begin using Canvas in two of his classes. “I've actually exceeded all of my goals and I've trained 12 other teachers.”
Innovation Nation isn't just about Canvas, or any other specific learning technology. Instead, it's a new approach to professional development that began over the summer with a pilot group of about 60 teachers from across the district. The program includes at least one teacher from each school in the district.
“It's personalized learning for teachers,” said Mary Tatum, who, through the program, works with individual teachers to help them reach their technology goals.
Patricia Coldren, the district's beginning teacher coordinator, said the program was set in place to get teachers excited about technology.
“Our goal was that the teachers in Innovation Nation would just catch fire, whether that's with Canvas or some other technology, and that the other teachers would see it and want to be a part of it,” she said. “This started with a discussion of how we could better offer professional development to our staff. The days of pulling all the teachers into a room for class is kind of over. So we came up with this coaching model where each teacher works with a technology facilitator.”
In the case of Canvas, Frielich said it's drastically changed his approach to teaching, both inside and outside of the classroom.
“My students are always ready to do whatever is next, because it's all there in the program,” he said. “And because of that I've also been able to train other teachers on it at the same time. They were learning, and I was teaching, but I was also able to show these other teachers how Canvas could make their lives and their students' lives better.”
Frielich, who is set to present on Canvas at the upcoming North Carolina Technology In Education Society's annual convention in March, said the tool also benefits parents, because they're able to log in and see what their children did in school that day.
“Instead of 'what did you learn in school today?' the question can be 'can you tell me more about this thing you worked on today?'” he explained.
Tatum said the technology's ability to bring others into the educational process extends to school staff students might not interact with so regularly.
“A student might have their art on Canvas, and (Assistant Principal) Mr. Keller sees it and leaves a comment about it,” she said. “That changes things for the student because they might just see him as a principal, but now he's someone who has an interest in what they're working on in class.”
While Innovation Nation began with just a handful of the district's teachers, the hope is that as students and teachers alike become accustomed to technologies like Canvas, more teachers would be interested in using them. And if student reactions are any indication, the technologies have been a success.
“One of my students told me at the end of the semester that she didn't know what she was going to do next semester because none of her classes are in Canvas,” Frielich said. “It's like going from the Dark Ages – it changes everything.”