Category Archives: Collaboration

Evolution, Part 2

There is a fundamental disconnect between the way students think, learn, and communicate and the way schools interact with them. Transforming our schools to be more student-centered through the use of effectively applied technology can make their education more relevant, their coursework more meaningful and allow both teachers and students to communicate more effectively.

In 1994 I was offered an opportunity to test this philosophy.  A new magnet program had just opened where I was teaching and it needed a new network administrator.  The previous two had not worked out and they wanted a teacher in that position, someone who understood a classroom and how technology should be deployed.  I jumped at the chance.

It took three years to correct the mistakes of the previous network admins and to implement some changes to both the physical plant and the way technology was administered in the magnet program.  I must say that the faculty was exceptionally supportive and pleased that a person with classroom experience was now in place and they afforded me every measure of professional courtesy and help.  The program paid for my technology training and I eventually earned Microsoft and Novell System engineer certifications. In 1997, after all my changes were in place I began my big experiment.

I designed a course where juniors and seniors could learn the fundamentals of networking and the intricacies of hardware and how it all ties in to programming. By the end of their career a network assistant could have a wealth of knowledge not only about servers but about computer code and the various solutions deployed in our program. I wanted these students to leave with a marketable skill and an industry certification to prove it. I also wanted students to learn, early on, the value of teamwork and dedication

Since 1997 the students enrolled in the CAT Network Systems Administrator Program have engaged in project based learning.  As Network Assistants, they have been an invaluable asset to the school while helping with technology issues.  They have also taken over running the different school websites.  With the continued improvement in technology the mission of the Network Assistants changed over time from one of break fix to one of development, innovation and creation.  This in turn opened a new world of opportunities as we are no longer limited to what we could do; we are only limited by time and imagination.

My students identify problems and design meaningful solutions that directly impact the quality of classroom instruction, communication and campus management. And, they have been doing so, in one form or another, for 17 years.  These students are actively involved in the campus environment, their projects are democratic, the activities are interactive and student-centered and involved in a process of learning in which students are encouraged to be responsible and autonomous. Each project team has to rely on and communicate with every other project team as often the different projects use some of the same technologies. They have to involve server and network administrators for server specific functions as well as the graphics team for any particular branding they want. Also, since projects are designed with specific audiences in mind it is imperative to involve the different stakeholders.

The course changes every year as the needs of the school, the personalities of the participants and the product technologies change.  This keeps it fresh, exciting and unpredictable. What doesn’t change though is my commitment to project based learning and the continued involvement of the students of the Center for Advanced Technologies. Applications to my classes are up again this year as they have been every year since I began the program.  We have also decided to make a fuller commitment to mobile app programming, over all three platforms (Windows Phone, iOS and Android), integrating apps with our campus solutions so we can remove all access barriers to our students and staff.  When BYOD comes (Bring Your Own Device) we will be ready.

If you would like to read some of my students’ thoughts on what it is like to work in this type of environment I urge you to visit here.