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The Role of Technology at Strath Haven

Maddie Marks, '18, co-Editor-in-Chief

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The RoleTechnology out in the world is evolving at lightning fast speeds — which means technology in the world of WSSD is also. Not only is Strath Haven looking to end the use of the Moodle website platform by next year, it is also hoping to introduce to use of chromebooks into classrooms and  perhaps switch the Portal network system in the upcoming years. These exciting new changes are being welcomed warmly (with maybe a bit of apprehension) by administrators, teachers, and students alike. With technology being such a large part of Haven students’ edu-
cation, these additions and alterations are likely to change the landscape of a Haven schooling experience and improve the quality of education greatly.

“Next year everyone will be using Google Classroom to some extent,” according to Strath Haven principal Dr. Yannacone. Google Classroom was introduced to Strath Haven High School students last year in a few classrooms, and has been spreading around the school since. “[The idea] was brought to us by the math and English department chairs. We decided to move forward and see what changes we would need to make to implement it.” This year
and the last were pilot years for Google Classroom; to cut off the widespread use of Moodle and replace it with a new
educational platform is a daunting task, and left some teachers worried about the switch for a number of reasons.

However, Dr. Yannacone explained that the change has gone rather well up until this point, thanks to the open-mindedness of teachers and students and the intuitive technology of Google Classroom. One of the biggest concerns
about switching to Google Classroom was its security infrastructure. Though Google is a widely trusted technological
platform, the idea of each student having their own account that contains personal information gave pause to Haven administrators. This issue was solved quickly, however — Dr. Yannacone confirmed that the IT department met with security advisors from Google, and the two groups settled on a trustworthy security plan for a small extra fee.

Even so, this security fee is worth it for the platform. One of the larger differences between Moodle and Google Classroom is that the former requires a yearly fee, which is approximately 7,000 dollars a year, while the latter is free besides the payment for security. On top of that, it has a lot more applicable features for that lower price; “We wouldn’t make the switch if we were going to an inferior system,” said Dr. Yannacone. The money originally allocated for Moodle is now being distributed to other needs at the high school. A few teachers have had notably positive re-
actions to the switch from Moodle to Google Classroom, include English department head  Mr. Wood. “It’s the biggest thing since word processing of the nineties,” he said. “I find the intuitiveness of Google Classroom, the ease of use, and the accessibility makes it much, much better [than Moodle].” Mr. Wood remarked on the dramatic improvement in teacher to student and student to student interaction, – “albeit digital interaction” – praising especially the ability to leave comments on work with ease and to provide documents electronically and without excessive use of paper. Mr. Wood also noted some bigger and overarching advantages to Google Classroom, one of which is improving the quality of education. He cited some discontent among his classes when the platform was first introduced, mostly due to the fact that the revision history of a certain assignment is available to the teacher through Google Classroom. He refuted the idea that this component of the platform is an invasion of privacy, and said instead that “exposure is a form of accountability” and the use of Google Classroom is “an endeavor to promote good writing habits.” He hopes that by knowing their revision history can be seen, students will be encouraged to not push their
assignments off until the night before and instead seek feedback in the days leading up to the due dates.

Junior Andrew Spangler voiced his reaction to the use of Google Classroom as opposed to Moodle. He pointed out that “Google Classroom has its advantages, such as making the process for assigning and submitting digital assignments much easier with its integration of Google Drive, however I feel that Moodle is much better for distributing study materials because of its organization.” He felt that the tools Moodle provides should not be completely ignored for the usage of Google Classroom, because both platforms are usable, effective systems. He explained that he doesn’t see “why it would be a problem to simply use both for their different purposes.”

Besides the reactions from students, Mr. Wood also discussed the implementation of Google Classroom in the middle school, which eliminates having to introduce them to a different system. “Millenials grow up as native users of technology,” he said. “We’ll soon be inheriting students [from the middle school] that already know how to use Google Classroom.” Incoming freshman will no longer have to learn how to use Moodle, which is a some-
what complex website platform — they will already be familiar with and know how to use Google Classroom, which is a huge timesaver.

Freshman English teacher Mrs. Duffy is also a large proponent of the Google Classroom platform. As a teacher
who invested a decent chunk of time into Moodle, she had firsthand experience with converting a Moodle website into a Google Classroom page, something which Dr. Yannacone noticed a few teachers struggled with. “People don’t like being told, ‘We’re changing this system’,” Mrs. Duffy said. “But I don’t really have a problem with let-
ting go. It wasn’t a big deal to transfer [the content].” Both Dr. Yannacone and Mrs. Duffy noted that the more time a teacher invested into Moodle, the bigger a deal the switch was. All in all, most teachers and students seem to be handling the switch from Moodle to Google Classroom well, and, as it becomes the norm, hopefully more of its enriching possibilities will be explored. Another change on the horizon for Strath Haven is the possibility of introducing chromebooks into classrooms. This proposal has been considered in many different forms, each of which carrying advantages and disadvantages in terms of price, ease of transition, and uses in the classroom. According to Dr. Yannacone, the school is looking at other school districts and seeing what the most efficient course of action is before taking any steps.

However, she confirmed that the chromebook technology would contribute just as much if not more to the educational experience of Haven students. She also mentioned how the administration is drawing on past experiences of implementing new technology, such as the implementation of SmartBoards and Promethean Boards years back — while the humanities departments wanted the former, the math department wanted the latter, and each received what they preferred. Dr. Yannacone said this is applicable in deciding which classes or departments receive what type of technology. “We [the administration] have allowed each department to determine what technology they’re interested in,” she said. However, as previously mentioned, it is not an easy task to update the technology in a school, and, as a result, there are many different plans that could be followed. The school has the option of introducing chromebooks into specific classes or departments, or focusing the use on freshman classes or senior classes alone. Student payment is also a decision to be made — Dr. Yannacone said that some options include allowing students to use the chromebooks for free, asking them to make a payment for their use, and letting students buy them after they graduate. Another large question is whether the chromebooks should be one-to-one for each stu-
dent, and whether they should be picked up at the beginning of the day or if they could go home with the students.

Mr. Finalyson, the Director of Technology at Haven, spoke to the financial aspect of implementing chromebooks, specifically with the one-to-one plan that Dr. Yannacone mentioned. He said that a lot of money for technology comes from the taxes that parents pay, because “Of all the districts, we have the least commer- cial property.” Without this extra financial boost, we have been one of the last school districts to consider switching to a chromebook education. Also, as a result of parents paying for a decent amount of technology at Haven, deciding what the money is spent on requires opening an ear to what parents are looking for. “Parents never really voiced that they were looking for that [one-to-one] plan,” said Mr. Finalyson, and that must be taken into account. However, the
option is still not off the table, and many more opinions are being heard.

So far, one of the biggest factors in implementing the new chromebook technology is the leases on the current technology. The most reasonable plan seems to be to ride out the current leases on the laptops and iPads at Haven and, instead of renewing them, look to buy chromebooks instead. However, according to Dr. Yannacone, “The conversion has been requested as soon as possible,” meaning that negotiations for a shorter lease on Haven’s current technology may be in order. Dr. Yannacone predicts that the technology may be implemented as soon as the 2019-2020 school year.

As with Google Classroom, teachers are having a mainly positive reactions, even if there may be some worry or frustration throughout the switch. Mr. Wood pointed out that “Students are getting different experiences” from classroom to classroom with the current technology available. Classes who constantly have a laptop cart are receiving a much different education experience than classes who have to borrow a cart or go to the library. He said that what he would love to see as a result of the chromebooks is “Equality achieved across a subject area.” Mrs. Duffy also weighed in, saying, “I think it would be a great way to use technology more efficiently.” Mr. Finalyson commented as well on the advantages of using chromebooks. “Chromebooks are much more secure, and something education has been moving towards,” he said. He explained that laptops and desktop computers at Haven have to perform patches, or updates, which are often times a hassle. Microsoft updates about six times a day and security and bug fixes
are implemented once a month, in addition to third party updates. “It’s very challenging to deal with these updates,” Mr. Finalyson said. On the contrary, chromebooks are updating constantly in the Cloud, which is a much easier and more efficient system. In addition, because most students are completing their work through Google, the most necessary component of educational technology is access to the Internet.

Chromebooks are much quicker and easier to use because they only really have one feature, that access to the Internet, specifically Google. Their efficiency is not bogged down by space-consuming non-Internet programs that are used very little, if at all. Junior Andrew Spangler spoke in support of this idea, saying he favors the prospect of implementing chromebooks because “A large portion of the computer programs and software that the school has been having students use has been Google, such as Google Drive and Google Classroom. It would probably make things more streamlined to have everything be on the Google platform, rather than using multiple different platforms like we do now.”

He believes it would be a smart choice to simplify the use of technology so teachers and students can spend less time figuring out programs and more time on education. However, not everyone is a big fan of the idea. Freshman Maria Andraos explained her experience with using the chromebooks that are currently in health classes. “They’re smaller, and I don’t like the layout. When you log on, you have all of the accounts that were previously signed in and you have to look for yours,” she said. However, she doesn’t mind the idea of switching to chromebooks as long as they’re easier to use than the ones currently in health classes. But for the most part, the switch from laptops and iPads to chromebooks is a concept that has been accepted fairly positively by administrators, teachers, and students. While there’s no concrete plan yet on how they will be implemented, this large technological change on the horizon is one to look forward to. There’s one more thing to be on the lookout for at Haven, and that is a possible switch from the MMS system to a different network system.

The MMS network system is a wide reaching program that houses all of the data for the district, including student grades, attendance records, and schedules. According to Dr. Yannacone, the administration team has been looking for a replacement for this system that is better equipped to handle more information. There are two main goals behind this switch. The first is to consolidate the records and information the Wallingford- Swarthmore School District handles. According to Mr. Finalyson, MMS is “not as robust a tool as we would like it to be.”
He also mentioned that that we are in the minority with MMS — a lot of other districts have moved to a more advanced and efficient platform, such as Powerschool. If WSSD were to switch to Powerschool,  it will enable schools to manage student records, financial information, enrollment and registration, and calendars, among many other components. A critical element of a possible new system is to have it be as all-encompassing as possible to enhance ease of use, as Mr. Finalyson highlighted when he said the school is “trying to bring it all under one roof.”

The second major factor in this switch is the budget. According to Mr. Finalyson, Powerschool is a cheaper, easier, and more efficient alternative. The majority of technological switches this large come down to the finances. However, this switch seems feasible and looks like it will have mostly positive effects. Dr. Yannacone went on to explain that the district’s consideration of moving to Powerschool has only been discussed on an administrative level so far. Teachers have not yet provided input to the conver- sation. This is because the switch is something that will affect administrators first and foremost. Administrators will have to undergo training to learn the structure of the new system, and will have to pass this information onto other users. While this may be time-consuming, Dr. Yannacone notes that these training sessions are ne essary to make the switch occur as seamlessly as possible.

Much more information is yet to come on the switch from MMS to Powerschool or another networking system, because the idea is still in its beginning stages. Mr. Finlayson explained that more information will be available in about six months, so, for right now, it’s only some- thing to keep an eye and an ear out for. Technology is a very large part of our education in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, and we are extremely lucky for it. Teachers as well as the administrative team always have the quality of students’ education as a priority, even though the implementation of new teaching methods may be hindered by the bud- get. These changes are being made with the goal of enhancing and enriching education, and we are looking forward to seeing how the landscape of schooling changes due to them.

The student newspaper of Strath Haven High School. The Panther Press is first and foremost a reflection of the opinions and interests of the student body. For this reason, we do not publish any anonymous or teacher-written submissions, and we do not discriminate against any ideology or political opinion. While we are bound by school policy (and funding), we will not render any article neutral, although individual points may be edited for obscene or inflammatory content. Finally, the articles published in the Panther Press do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or advisors.
The Role of Technology at Strath Haven