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Rhode Island K-12 wireless vision yields fresh dividends

Rhode Island Department of Education's Holly Walsh outlines how school wireless networking has helped spawn e-learning and instructional resources platforms.

Wyatt Kash
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Wyatt Kash Vice President - Content Strategy

Wyatt Kash is an award-winning editor and journalist who has been following government IT trends for the past decade. He joined Scoop News Group in...

Rhode Island schools are seeing a multitude of benefits taking shape thanks to statewide wireless investments made several years ago, says Holly Walsh, e-learning and instructional technology specialist for the Rhode Island Department of Education.

"We’ve reached a tipping point where the culture has shifted," she says, referring to a new willingness to look at education differently as digital tools continue to enhance teaching and learning.

The state has already begun to realize the potential of that shift with its recently-launched Advanced Coursework Network, the expanding use of open resources and a concerted push into computer science instruction.

Walsh, like many educators, says she prefers starting the conversation about technology around the experience you want for students to have first, and then talk about the technology you want to use. But it didn't happen that neatly for Rhode Island, she says in an interview with EdScoop during the State Education Technology Directors Association's most recent leadership summit.

"About five years ago, we started talking about blended learning and why would we want to do that; and how does it affect teaching and learning? But it was the passage of a technology bond several years ago that put wireless infrastructure in every one of our classrooms, and which allowed districts to think differently about access," she says in the interview.

That had the "side effect of bringing the administrators into the conversation about which devices should we use," and how wireless technologies could "help accelerate support for one-to-one learning. Today, one-to-one programs are taking place in two-thirds of the state’s school districts, she says.

It helps that the state is geographically small, which “makes it easier to implement to a statewide scale," she says. But that in turn has helped the state see the power of piloting programs and adopting rapid iteration as a way of thinking.

The creation of a statewide network that makes it easier for students to take advanced courses is one example, according to Walsh. The Advanced Coursework Network, launched in the fall of 2016, is still in a pilot phase, with 500 student enrolled from across the state. Many more coursework providers will be coming online soon, she says.

Rhode Island has also moved quickly to fulfill a broad goal of having "computer science in all of our schools by 2017," she says. “We didn’t say, ‘In five years, lets make that happen.’ We started with, ‘What can we make happen right now that will start to grow that?’”

Rhode Island is also moving relatively quickly to expand its use of open educational resources. "We’re just about to open our #GoOpen Rhode Island [platform] in the K-12 world and are exploring how to do that in the higher education institutions as well," she says.

Rhode Island expects to pilot a resources platform with Amazon Inspire and Edmodo Spotlight, according to Walsh, and is looking at a couple of other providers to find out what’s working well and to identify "needs we didn’t anticipate – and how can we think even deeper about it. But we’re going to get started right now," she says.

"The #GoOpen Movement is really complimenting what is a deep value in our Rhode Island community around personalization in education,” she said in the interview.

But she cautioned against exercising too much control over how it evolves.

“I think it’s arrogant to think that I, or even a small committee, would be able to recommend or select the appropriate tool in this place where we’re not yet mature. So we’ve taken a different approach and said, 'We'll have an instructional support system.'"

Reach the reporter at wyatt.kash@ScoopNewsGroup.com and follow him on Twitter @wyattkash and @edscoop_news.

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