As the Wauwatosa School District moved ahead rapidly to upgrade to the latest digital technology and information systems – open mail and document sharing, iPads with open applications, e-readers and more – it found it had a problem.
Easy as they seemed to be to use, these technologies were largely unfamiliar to a large number of teachers and staff, who were expected not only to use the devices and software themselves but were also supposed to teach students to use them and to work them into the learning curriculum.
So Jamie Price, the district's technology coordinator, had to turn to the experts for help.
"There's been a significant increase in teacher interest" in the new technologies, Price said, enough so that planned teacher-expertise teams that would have spread tech knowledge around would have been overtasked with demand.
"So, we're exploring student-staff expertise teams," Price said. "Students training teachers."
As Price had pointed out earlier this year when he introduced the School Board to the new information systems being rushed into deployment, most teachers – except for the youngest – are "digital immigrants"; they had to move into unfamiliar territory in the digital realm and learn new languages and customs.
Students and the newest teachers by and large are "digital natives"; they have grown up with digital technology and have a native's understanding of how it works.
At the same time, there are a few students who have been denied exposure to digital technology and the school district needs to make sure they are not left behind.
In his update to the School Board on Monday night, Price detailed the progress he and staff were making on getting the new systems implemented and ready to use by Sept. 1. Unforeseen difficulties made it a bit harder than expected.
Among those was the long uncertainty imposed by the state budget process, Price said. So many school districts waited to place orders, there were issues with product availability.
"There were problems getting computers and laptops because of state budget uncertainties," Price said. But, he said, those knots were unraveling as providers were ramping up production and procurement.
In the realm of software, Price said, "Google made change on their end," meaning that introducing g-mail and Google docs was delayed but should still be deployed by the opening of the 2011-2012 school year.
And then there are those iPads. The school district had bought 1,000 of them and had to set them up for student use, including both applications and security.
"Apple didn't really design the iPad for this," Price said. "The management of 1,000 iPads was quite a task."
So what did Price do?
"We hired a couple of students over the summer to help us with that."