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Corinne Lestch is a staff reporter covering education for EdScoop and its affiliate public sector technology news websites, FedScoop and StateScoop...
Michele Eaton has a new focus at her job at Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, Indiana – integration and interoperability.
The director of virtual and blended learning talked with EdScoop about how her role is changing since being named a NextGeneration Leader by CoSN and EdScoop in 2016, and following the district's decision to bring the curriculum and technology departments closer together.
"We’ve always worked in some capacity, relying on each other, but our teams have definitely blended more in the last year and a half," Eaton said in an interview. "We created a centralized hub for not only digital learning to happen, but also curriculum management. That has led to us meeting regularly and working together to help teachers use technology in more transformative ways in the classroom."
Eaton said both teams had a say in the new learning management system, called itslearning. The platform allows students and teachers to have a single sign-on and allows tech integration specialists to dump a host of easily accessible content into the library.
"Students and teachers don't have to keep track of several usernames and passwords, and they can easily move things into the digital learning environment," she said.
Eaton and the teams started working on the transition to the new LMS about two years ago, and this school year they rolled it out to teachers, working with them to develop curriculum maps so that it wouldn't be "an empty space when teachers signed in for the first time."
The district has gone through its share of learning management systems. Eaton said itslearning is the third LMS she has worked on during her five years in the position – first was Angel, an LMS the district used since the 1990s and which was purchased by Blackboard. Then they turned to My Big Campus, which doesn't exist anymore after being retired by the company Lightspeed. Now, the tech team has decided to adopt, rebrand and personalize the new LMS, which everyone in the district calls the "Wayne Learning Hub."
"We were needing to pretty quickly find a replacement," said Eaton, adding that rethinking the traditional LMS platform made it easier to create a "one-stop shop" for teachers and students.
Eaton has also been working with IMS Global Learning Consortium, which creates standards for integrating learning tools into existing platforms and connects her with other IT specialists around the country doing the same work. She has relied on the nonprofit group to answer questions about tools like common cartridges, which are used to load educational content straight into the LMS instead of a separate platform.
Eaton, who was a second-grade teacher before joining the tech team, is also helping the district navigate open educational resources, known as OER. Tech leaders have integrated content from Gooru, a free OER site, into their library and even tagged it with metadata so teachers and students can easily search for what they want.
Instead of looking for digital content on Google or Pinterest and sifting through the thousands of hits, educators can find existing, quality materials on the LMS.
"This is hopefully saving time for our teachers," Eaton said.
Eaton emphasized that while the new technologies are making school operations more efficient, the most important part of the process is ensuring that district leaders are on the same page.
The curriculum and technology departments — comprising about nine people including the chief technology officer, the assistant superintendent of academics, and members of the e-learning — still meet regularly to make sure adoption systems run smoothly.
"We're now partners in the digital resource adoption process, and it became really critical that we have these conversations," said Eaton, who is the point person responsible for integrating content into the LMS.
Another example of the seamless way the two teams work together: Eaton has helped create integration guides for members of the curriculum department to use when they're talking to vendors and publishers, before making purchasing decisions. They are able to use a color-coded flow chart that walks them through the integration process.
"There are so many decisions — how you want teachers to access content, how you create an account — all of it can take you down a different path," she said. "So we created this tool that helps us stay organized."