Friday, May 4, 2007
An interview with CCHS Technology Director Gene Warfel
At the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) there are five servers, 654 computers, 50 printers, 50 ActivBoards, and one Gene Warfel, the Director of Technology for Concord-Carlisle Regional High School who helps administrators streamline data management and assists teachers as they integrate technology into the curriculum.
Warfel, who also serves as Director of Technology for Concord's K-8 school sytem, came to his present job in 2000 after teaching at the college level for 20 years. He taught classes in philosophy, logic and bio-medical ethics, among other things. He also worked as the Information Technology Director for Duchess County Mental Health System in New York.
Since 2000, he has put in a fiber optic network connecting the CCHS and the Concord schools, replaced all computers at least once, and has gotten a Promethean ActivBoard (electronic blackboard that links with computers) in almost every classroom, with the exception of a few kindergartens. Every teacher has a laptop and there is at least one computer in every class.
At CCHS, Warfel is assisted by two technical staff members. Warfel praises their work,"These people are very motivating." The specialists help teachers use the technology in the classroom. They help keep the computers working as well.
Computerizing the classroom
ActivBoards were piloted four years ago by a grant from the Concord Education Fund. Since then, Concord Schools have gone from four to 200 boards. "They are useful wherever people gather." The strategy to get teachers up to speed on how to use the ActivBoards has been to train a few motivated teachers who are comfortable with technology, and then have those teachers train others.
Warfel mentioned another interactive device to aid classroom instruction, "We are starting to add ActivVotes." Each student in a classroom uses one of these small devices to "vote" for the correct answer from a set of possible solutions. Teachers can ask the class different questions to see if they are grasping the information and get an instant assessment of the class.The cost for 32 devices is roughly $1,600.
CCHS math teacher June Patton describes how the tool differs from simply asking students to raise their hands, "It is possible to have the students vote anonymously, or to see who has voted for what answer. Either can be useful, depending on the question being posed." Patton adds,"One advantage to voting, is that if the teacher is not showing who voted for what, students who may not be as inclined to raise their hands will feel more comfortable about voting for an answer. So, especially for sensitive questions, such as may be raised in a social studies class, students who are not normally heard in class may feel more comfortable."
Streamlining records and communications
Connecting CCHS and the other schools in Concord by fiber optics greatly increased bandwidth, availability and dependability of the network for information exchange. Then came the task of integrating common administrative and educational functions previously handled by different software systems at the various schools.
"We used to have independent databases of student records at each school," Warfel explained. The X2 System is now used for student information and ultimately, health, attendance and grades for each student will be in that one system. Eventually, there will be a parent portal, so parents can see all their children's information. While before there was no centralized database, now there are two databases, one for Concord Schools K — 8 and one for the high school. A Phoenix software package is used for administrative accounting and payroll.
Warfel said that a big advantage was gained by bringing in the First Class System. It is a collaboration tool, including e-mail and bulletin board capabilities. Teachers can post notes, start user group discussions, list important conferences to attend and post departmental calendars. News at the high school, middle school and grammar school levels is also posted. There are areas to store documents and share information. Teachers post flipcharts so any other teacher can pull those charts and work with them, modify them, enhance them and use them in their own classrooms. As teachers increase use of ActivBoards, the ActivBoard users group has been a hot spot. Warfel says, "Teachers cross regular [elementary, middle and high school] boundaries and communicate there." He expects that each high school student will have a mailbox on the system by the fall and will have access to certain areas of the system.
School libraries share data
Another new feature is the Destiny Library computer system implemented during the past year to link libraries in the high school and Concord School system. He says, "We moved all the libraries on to one server, one web-based system. All the libraries can see the other libraries' holdings. We eliminated six servers." Being web-based, teachers and students can search for books outside of school hours.
Warfel has lots of plans and ideas for the future. By the fall, he expects to have a new CCHS web site. This year, Science Department Chair Ray Pavlik has had a podcast of his class, which allows students to go back and watch the class from their own computer. This operation will be moved to the First Class System in the coming year.
Warfel will be adding a rapid web development tool and will train teachers how to create their own web sites. This tool has a set of templates, so Warfel believes it will be much easier to use than Dream Weaver, a previously used web page design tool.
Last year, the Concord Education Foundation gave a grant of $50,000 for 25 new dual-processor PCs for the imaging lab at CCHS. At the April RSC meeting, Warfel gave a demonstration of the imaging capabilities of the old and the new computers used in the CCHS digital imaging classes. Warfel showed a movie made of a combination of images and animations done in class. "Oohs," "Ahhs" and "Wows" could be heard around the room. The Imaging Lab is heavily used. There is also an after-school multi-media club.
Warfel would like to do for the music department what he has done for the visual arts. He hopes to obtain equipment for sound reproduction to "facilitate the teaching and learning of music. Currently, we are fairly limited on what we can record I want to have multiple tracks of recording capability." He wants students to learn digital audio production by using professional software tools and learning recording techniques. "We can go far on a small budget. Things have changed a lot."
Laptop loaner program
At the April Regional School Committe (RSC) meeting, Warfel spoke about the "Laptop Loaning Program." It allows students who don't have computers at home to borrow them from the high school. He said that so far, 49 laptops have been loaned out, and the program has been very well received. Several students have written back to him on how it has helped with their homework. Currently, there are two spare laptops if one should stop working.
Warfel upgrades the schools' computers regularly, and believes there should be relative consistency on the network. "It's probably unreasonable to have eight-year old computers in the systemWe have a five-year replacement cycle built into the school budget. This includes software and licenses."
Currently there are ten computer courses offered at the high school, all in the Applied Technology Program: Computer Skills and Applications, Introduction to Computer Programming, Digital Imaging and Collage, 3D Graphics, Advanced 3D Topics in Digital Imaging, Architectural Drafting and Design, Video Production I & II, and Web Site Design and Publishing.
In Digital Imaging and Collage, for example, students develop the skills necessary for manipulating and producing images using a computer. Emphasis is placed on a basic understanding of the computer as a creative tool, including painting applications, design and composition, and preparing images for the web.
The courses are popular. Currently there are six sections of the introductory digital imaging course and all are filled. There is also one section of an advanced course, which is full and 37 students were turned away, as only 20 students can be accommodated per class. As more and more kids take the introductory course, more and more want to take the advanced course.
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