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Tech takes on many faces in schools

Sequim School District strives to keep its classroom tools progressive and relevant.

Recently, two long-term projects were completed through the districts' technology department. Wireless Internet and document cameras soon will be available in every school district classroom in Sequim.



Wireless Internet

The wireless Internet was installed incrementally throughout the district so if problems arose the affected areas would be small and easily identifiable. Staff can access the Internet at 30 access points in the district. Students registered as guest users will be able to access the wireless Internet with personal laptops but they can't access the Intranet, the network server with sensitive district information.

While surfing the Web, students will have their Internet content filtered. Limited bandwidth will be in place to prevent streaming and downloading of music and movies. Many popular Web sites are blocked from the server such as Myspace, Facebook and Craigslist. Personal free e-mail accounts like Hotmail and Yahoo are blocked to prevent online chatting, downloadable viruses and questionable content.

"We filter things that don't have anything to do with learning. We ask, what does this have to do with student learning? How does this support learning?" said Patra Boots, director of curriculum and technology.

She feels online safety is crucial for parents to do at home with their children to help keep them safe from sexual predators, online bullying and mature content online

"We lock things down pretty tightly because of the size of our staff for investigations and such of questionable content," Boots said.



Document cameras

Document cameras provide photo-realistic likenesses of an object in real-time like a Web-cam. These cameras are connected to mounted projectors that display a teacher or student's presentation while the whole class watches on a screen. The cameras are able to show video, freeze frame images and snap photos of what is depicted on screen.

The technology department has been investing in document cameras districtwide for four or five years. Almost every classroom in the district has a document camera. The final cameras have been purchased for all physical education departments and are being prepped for delivery soon.



Technology Department

Boots leads a team of three for the school technology department. Maria Seabolt, assessment and technology support coordinator, and Richard Seiler, technology assistant, are the other building blocks for the network, software and computers to stay running.

The district contracts with the Educational Service District of Bremerton to have one person provide network and e-mail support service three times a week.

"We go through the ESD because they are always up-to-date in certification and licensing, and we can't always afford to do that," Boots said.

The large amount of technology in the district is a mixed blessing for the small staff. Boots said they have a hard time adequately training everyone how to use each resource.

"Just five years ago, staff had a hard time opening attachments in e-mails."

The technology staff helps teachers and students use learning tools such as search engines and ESD provided videos.

"We want to train students and staff how to effectively analyze data rather than just using Google all the time," Boots said.

With limited resources, the technology staff is trying to accommodate the ever-evolving field of technology.

"Tech constantly changes so trying to figure out what affects the most people with our resources is our biggest challenge," Seabolt said.

"Technology is intended to support learning. It is not learning itself. It is to complement learning. Sticking a kid in front of a computer doesn't mean he/she will learn," Boots said.



Cost saving

The district last updated its computer operating systems from Windows 98 to Windows XP. They avoided changing to other operating systems because of expense. Windows Vista, the newest operating system on the market, will not be seen in conventional classrooms for the same reason. It is however being run in five vocational computer labs for students who must be kept up to date in training of current operating systems and software.

Students in all schools use Hi-Share computers, which allow a single processor to serve more than one student. Up to four sets of keyboards, mice and monitors are connected through one computer processor. Students can access software, tests/quizzes and the Internet through these shared machines.

"It maximizes computer usage ... It also saves on licensing all individual computers," Boots said.

Currently, the district has 751 computers. Every school day, student computers are shut off at 4 p.m. unless they are being used; then they are shut off at 8 p.m. The technology staff also is working on switching out older towers for more energy efficient ones.

Staff computers are an average four years old and student computers are slightly older.

With looming budget cuts, the technology staff is aware that they might be hit.

"We know every department

is going to have to tighten their belts a little," Seabolt said.

For more information on school operations, a schoolwide tour for Greywolf Elementary, 171 Carlsborg Road, and Sequim Middle School, 301 W. Hendrickson Road, will be held March 6. Contact Annette Hanson at 582-3264 for reservations.



Matthew Nash can be reached at mnash@sequimgazette.com.



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