DENVER – Mike Ribble is doing everything he can to move is district into the 21st century.
For about a decade, he has been the director of technology for the Manhattan-Ogden School District in Kansas, and because of his work, he has been dubbed the “Godfather of Digital Citizenship.” He has written a book about the topic, which tries to teach kids about how to navigate the world of the web safely.
He talked to EdScoop at the annual ISTE conference, which brings together nearly 16,000 edtech leaders, teachers and administrators at schools across the country. Ribble chairs a professional learning network on digital citizenship to try to raise awareness and bring it into curricula. Below is an edited and condensed Q&A.
EdScoop: How did you come into your role as director of technology?
Mike Ribble: I actually started in education. My mother, grandmother, aunts and uncles were all educators, and I was a science educator early on. I was working on my master’s degree for educational leadership, and a position came open in a private school in Wichita, and I was the science teacher there and then the assistant principal. But then I saw that technology was part of my job as assistant principal, and I took over that role of building technologist. I went back to school and have a master’s degree in management information systems, so I have both the education and technology pieces. In 2006, the position in the school district that I’m at now came open, and it was the first time they had actually named technology director.
ES: How has technology in education evolved over the last 10 years you have worked at your district?
MR: It has changed astronomically. Before it was very much lock-step – we were a PC district. We didn’t have any tablet technologies. We had laptops, but that was about as far as we were with mobile technology. And [my colleagues] were focused on just getting the technology out there and getting it hooked up. Over the years, we’ve started to be more flexible, bringing in more of the mobile technology and finding solutions. And that, for me, is the biggest part of what we do, is we find solutions [to support curriculum]. So I’ve had to work very closely with our curriculum director.
The other part is working in digital citizenship. I’ve seen such a growth in that area, and being able to provide that for students and see what kind of person they want to be as an online persona.
ES: Do you teach digital citizenship to students?
MR: I’ve worked quite a bit with ISTE. We’re currently in my third edition of my book, “Digital Citizenship In Schools.” I wrote the first edition in 2007. We’re probably a little bit behind some places. It hasn’t seemed so much a priority for my own district. They do digital citizenship in pockets, but there is no across-the-board plan or idea, and we’re so involved in so many different things. In other places, it has been bubbling up as a high priority.
ES: What is a success story and what is a challenge you’re trying to work through?
MR: It seems like there are plenty enough challenges. It seems surprising, the amount of online resources, and then as technology directors, how we need to keep refreshing and providing more of those resources. But we also have to have the infrastructure to do it. We have to have the bandwidth. When I first came on nine years ago, we only had a 40-meg [megabits per second] connection to the internet for our entire district. We’re 6,000 students. If you think about it today, most homes have over 50-meg connections in their homes. But we jumped from 40 to 500 just three years ago, and in the first 18 months [of a three-year contract], we used up the 500 megs. So we went out again through E-rate and we will be implementing a 10-gig [gigabits per second] pipe to our district this coming fall. I would say that is both a great thing for us and it’s been a challenge in trying to continue to provide those resources.
I would say the other is, we did quite a bit of transitioning a few years back to virtual servers, making that transition to protecting our data better. We were far behind where we needed to be and we now have a lot of physical security in our area. We also have a generator now, so we have a lot of protection of our data and we are looking for the next step.
ES: What devices or digital programs does your district use?
MR: If you were to look at it, we would have pretty close to a one-to-one program, but we don’t call it that. Students don’t take them home. I had a conversation with our board a month ago talking about a one-to-one implementation, and what would that look like. We are still PC-based. We still have static labs in our buildings. We have become very integrated as an iPad district – we have over 3,000 iPads, mostly in our elementary schools. Most came from grants, not many came out of district funds. We also have a pilot at our high school with Chromebooks this fall.
ES: What would you like edtech to look like in your district in the next five years?
MR: I guess I would like to see it as more of a unifying system, so that we can get behind technology, and chances of that are probably pretty slim. It would be nice to get to a web-based platform, that it won’t matter what device you’re on, if you like a Chromebook or Macbook or iPad, that’s fine. We’ll be rolling out [Microsoft] Office 365 as a pilot this fall to students. If we can get above the technology, it will become less focused on, ‘how many comptuers do I have in a lab?’ It’s going to take teaching students how to be good stewards of technology, and that’s digital citizenship.
ES: What do you hope to get out of ISTE?
MR: We’re really trying to build [digital citizenship] to the next level – helping out teachers, students and the community. I’m having a lot of conversations about that with different people, and we have a session Wednesday. We’ll be taking that out to the teachers to show them how they can get involved in digital citizenship.
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