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Published on Nov 24, 2010
Can a few teachers generate enough enthusiasm for digital learning that a passion for technology in the classroom spreads virally? In White Oak ISD, it's a resounding "Yes!" http://POWERONTEXAS.COM Rather than mandate the use of technology in his district, Superintendent Michael Gilbert decided to let it gain momentum from the bottom up. "We just picked out some teachers in primary school that we believed had some talents and some desire to integrate technology into their curriculum and we gave them the tools," said Gilbert, "then we sat back." They didn't have to wait long. Technology fever spread much faster than anticipated. The desire to add technology to their classrooms not only spread from teacher to teacher in White Oak Primary School, but eventually spread to other schools in the district as teachers shared their knowledge in informal training sessions. Now, said Gilbert, White Oak ISD is having a viral impact on other districts. In White Oak ISD, administrators decided to take a viral approach to digital learning: Rather than mandate the use of technology, they equipped a few eager, talented teachers, hoping they'd inspire others to transform their classrooms. We gave them a MacBook. We gave them some freedom to look at some software, to do some things with their teaching, and we sat back. Before long, those early adopters were drawing attention. For example, the teacher who turned a routine science lesson into an adventure by sending a high-tech expedition into the school's nature center to help the class identify plant and animal life. That really engaged them and they were all engaged, they all wanted to find the find the answers to the questions, and I think that increased the learning. Then there was the teacher who discovered that just having students type vocabulary words into ipods generated a level of enthusiasm and results not possible with paper. The students who used the ipods, not only did they finish quicker, when I gave them a quiz they actually remembered more vocabulary words than students who looked them up in the dictionary. Another experiment revealed that if you let students comment on a video with a twitter like program, every student in the room will pay rapt attention to the presentation. Every single student is engaged because they're not only watching the video, but they're seeing what other people post and that takes them back to the video and that keeps their mind engaged. Pretty soon, other teachers were asking. What do you have to do to get one of those computers? And the answer was, well, you just did it. You asked for it. Before long, the entire school was infected with enthusiasm for the transformative power of technology. Viral means viral, and in White Oak and with that start in primary school it spread much faster than I thought. And the viral impact of the teacher's work didn't stop at the elementary school. It spread to White Oak's middle school and high school as well, offering a case study in the power of one. You get just one teacher in a grade level that sees the benefit and begins to integrate that into their classroom, and it just spreads. So what's the secret behind this strategy? Teachers see first-hand the revolutionary, and rejuvenating, aspects of technology. A classroom teacher that's been teaching longer than I have stood up in front of the board members and said it's like starting all over, I'm excited to go to work, I love what I do, and the children are excited to come to my class. You can't ask for anything better than that. To find out more about how White Oak ISD joined the digital learning revolution, go to http://POWERONTEXAS.COM The Texas Education Agency http://www.tea.state.tx.us/