Technical renovation part of $180,000 five-year plan at TPS

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Thieken tiff — TPS Tech and Curriculum Director Todd Thieken is overseeing the districtwide upgrade. Photo by Deane Erts.

Tecumseh schools are about to undergo a technical renovation that will not be visible to the casual observer but which will improve both the technical capabilities in all buildings and enhance the curriculum abilities of every teacher in the school system. The renovation is part of a $180,000, five-year tech overhaul that was approved by the school board.

Tecumseh Public Schools Director of Technology and Curriculum Todd Thieken told the board that the upgrade was necessary because the infrastructure that connects the school system computers to each other and to the Internet is 11 years old and can no longer handle the advances in technology and increased flow of information that new electronic devices require. He said that the new equipment will vastly improve the speed and bandwidth of the entire computer system.

The upgrade will not require knocking down any walls or rewiring classrooms. In fact, the overhaul is scheduled to begin Friday, Sept. 28, and be completed before school opens the following Monday. Thieken explained that replacing components with the very un-technical name of “switches” will allow the connecting cables and wires between individual computers and buildings within the district to carry ten times their current information capacity. It is a simple matter of swapping out the old switches with new high-capacity switches.

In his report Thieken said, “The demands placed on our technology infrastructure for delivery of educational content and support services has more than quadrupled from 1999 when this infrastructure was planned and procured.” He said the inevitable educational trend is away from teachers disseminating information at a whiteboard in the front of a class to individual students interactively receiving information online from many different media.

He said that the upgrade will save the school district $14,000 per year in maintenance contracts and will support the district security system at a cheaper rate than is currently being paid.

As curriculum director, Thieken is concerned as much with how students learn as with the equipment they use to learn, and he said that more savings will be realized with less dependence on hardbound textbooks. “We started on the cloud two years ago,” he said, “and with the Google apps for students and teachers, we will have saved the district $100,000. Google Apps for Education is free.” For those unfamiliar with the term “cloud,” it may be thought of as a huge storehouse of information that is not on the premises and need not be maintained and updated as in-house computer servers must.

Despite the best efforts of taxpayers, not all students in schools have computers in every class, and educators have been grappling with the notion of allowing students to use personal electronic devices from smartphones to laptop computers in classrooms to go on line and access the wealth of information on the Internet. Monitoring student online activity, of course, is one of the stumbling blocks, but there are existing ways to achieve that goal.

A TPS student technology assessment has been part of the overall technology improvement agenda. The surveys are voluntary, but the information gathered is very germane to the technology revolution that is underway in education. If students do not have access to the technology, then they cannot participate fully in the new education frontier. The current TPS survey is still in progress, but the most recently completed survey from a few years ago determined then that 85 percent of students had access to the Internet at home. That percentage can be expected to increase when the current assessment is completed, Thieken said.

In spite of all the new bells and whistles of the high-tech educational movement, Thieken said that his philosophy, and the philosophy of most forward-thinking educators, is that technology is important but secondary to curriculum. “Our curriculum drives our technology, not the other way around,” he said, “Technology supports curriculum here. Our job is to expedite what technology has to offer our students and teachers.”




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