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Integrating technology at Naperville Central

Veteran technology coordinator Tom Bohdan shares
his vision

Naperville Central High School, Naperville, IllinoisWhat does it take to create a really successful technology program in an elementary or high school?

After logging over 70,000 student interactions in his instructional media center (or IMC) last year, Tom Bohdan, Library/Media Specialist at Naperville Central High school, is ready to share some ideas.

Bohdan is in his 22nd year of technology work in education. He has been involved with computer labs, library reference databases, video production, distance learning, and the state internet initiative in local districts at elementary levels through high school. Currently he is writing his Ed.D. thesis (in educational administration) on integrating technology into the curriculum.

Naperville Central’s program, like those in many schools, is based in the IMC, which combines the library and technology services. "If you have a passion for this," says Bohdan," then this is the perfect place. That’s because the key information that supports the curriculum is accessed here. The faculty, the students, and the administration are all working on projects, and we’re that important cog or bridge they need." Whether centered in a library, computer lab, or audio-visual service center, the technology program is in a position to exert a key influence on the entire school.

Why it matters

Use of technology, according to Bohdan, is among the areas most critical to the success of today’s schools.

One reason is the impact visuals and sound can have on learning "We can stand up all day and lecture, " says Bohdan, "but if you look at the research, you start to realize that’s not such a good idea. If a person just uses a verbal approach, nearly 75% of the material is forgotten within 72 hours. If you take a more kinesthetic approach and use visuals and audio, then you see a dramatic improvement in retention. The student absorbs more and is more motivated as well."

Another reason is the way that technology lifts the drudgery of finding and using information. "Sometimes," says Bohdan," the process itself is so important–the fact that our students are using these tools successfully. You don’t have to know everything, but if you can access that information, it really does strengthen you. A person with information access has exponentially more to offer to his company or his school."

To help students achieve this kind of "information power" takes a major shift in our thinking, according to Bohdan. Unfortunately, as we all know, this kind of paradigm shift is very difficult to achieve.

Passion and persistence

Bohdan credits his own success in setting up technology programs on five factors: strategic planning, staff training, willingness to partner with teachers, ability to offer ongoing support, and measurement. "You can have the greatest equipment in the world," says Bohdan, "but there has to be a strategic plan." Having such a plan is not enough–it takes leadership to get the staff behind it. "You have to make presentations to the departments, be willing to work with department chairs, but even beyond that, to work with the teachers one on one."

One of the themes of Bohdan’s approach is persistence. Another is the personal touch. "While we make those departmental presentations, we don’t stop there. I find that, if you put 20 or 30 teachers together in an inservice, they will tend to be reticent, reluctant to raise their hands and ask, ‘How do you do that again?’ But if we’re working one on one, they can ask all sorts of questions, and they can feel free to make mistakes. " The persistence comes in as Bohdan seeks the opportunity to get that one on one time. " Sometimes the seed is planted, but it doesn’t immediately come to fruition. The next day or two days later you come back and say, ‘Remember we talked earlier in the week? Have you had a chance yet?’"

Passion, of course, fits into the equation as well. If a person doesn’t believe strongly in what he or she is attempting, it’s hard to achieve anything at all. " You have to walk your talk," says Bohdan. "You need to have an outreach program that says, ‘if there are ten people in your department, please consider me the eleventh. Please consider our department as part of your team. You can’t pontificate, you have to be sincere. If they see that sincerity and that you really are interested in them and their students as individuals, then suddenly these other things start to fall into place."

One of Bohdan’s passions is to increase utilization of the technology center. His team counted over 70,000 student visits to the IMC–or about 27 visits per student–last year. To achieve that number obviously took some effort; but we need to realize that measuring it was a crucial effort in itself. "You need a baseline of where you are versus what can be," comments Bohdan. But counting visits is far from enough. "You have to ask, what does that mean? As you analyze it further, you begin to see how you’ve impacted the various curricular areas. You need to measure which technologies and databases are being used, so you get a sense of what skills are getting across. You start to see how much better these students are as learners because of what you’ve done."

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The effort can be very rewarding. "I’ve come to believe," continues Bohdan, "that the Instructional Materials Center is literally the hub of the school. That’s because we get into all curricular areas: we work with all the students, all the staff, all the faculty. What other teacher, what other area, what other department can really say that?"

The approach in action

At the end of August, Naperville Central put its first distance learning classroom into operation, using it to teach an advanced Spanish language class. With this technology, students at geographically separate sites are brought together using video and audio signals transmitted over telephone lines. Though there are not enough students for a Spanish Five class this year at Naperville Central, the school is offering the class by linking up with a teacher at Riverside Brookfield and students there, at Naperville, and in Downers Grove.

Though the West Suburban Post-Secondary Consortium made the basic decisions on the distance learning equipment, Bohdan made sure he was very involved with the planning for Naperville Central’s classroom."When the grant went through, "says Bohdan, "I knew I had to see enough sites to learn from the mistakes and the good ideas others had."Bohdan, working with United’s Dave Woods, made several improvements to the WSPSC’s design.

Naperville is bringing the system on line gradually. The purchasing decision was made last January, with three major tests of the system in the spring. Right now, one class is being offered, with others planned to begin later this year. Bohdan frequently drops in to Spanish Five, to offer advice and help as needed, and he is bringing other staff in for visits and training. "With something new like this,"comments Bohdan," you do have to take people step by step. It’s truly fascinating to see, that when they have a chance to operate it, it’s really not as scary as they might originally think."

So far, measurement of the program is informal, consisting mainly of staff meetings and discussions. Ultimately, however, success will be measured by the success of the students–on what they are able to achieve versus learning objectives, on their scores on standardized tests, and on their success in future classes, either at the high school or in college. For it is, as Bohdan notes, the student who is the ultimate customer of the school and whose needs remain the center of the program.

No doubt some goals will be met, others missed. " I’ve always presented technology as tool, not a panacea. I’ll hold up a pencil and say, ‘this one of best pieces of technology that’s ever been invented. But it’s not the only piece." There’s a need for realism. Measurement is critical not only to gauge success but to point out where future efforts are most needed.

How United Visual can help

When starting a new program, it’s important to have a partner you can trust. "I probably go back originally with Dan Ferraro at least a decade, " says Bohdan, " and so, when I came here, I immediately hooked up with United Visual. It was the quality of the people, the products and the service. They’re just a tremendous example of what Tom Peters wrote about in his book, In Search of Excellence."

United is obviously not in a position to help with curricular goals, but can make sure the technology applied is appropriate and works as needed. That can be a big help in itself. " If I can, I’ll direct people to people who can help," says Bohdan. "I’ve met all kinds of people and dealt with all kinds of service over the years. When you’ve met literally thousands of people, there are certain things that stand out pretty clearly. The people at United have a sincerity that’s very hard to find. When you see that, you just want to continue that relationship."

If you have questions for Tom Bohdan, you can contact him at [email protected]