HANCOCK COUNTY — Two county school corporations will use $75,000 of state grant funding to rev up digital learning efforts within their buildings.
Educators at Mt. Vernon and Southern Hancock schools learned this month their districts received The Digital Learning Grant offered through the Indiana Department of Education’s e-learning office.
Mt. Vernon will use the funding to hire at least two technology coaches, called technology integration specialists, to help teachers and staff further integrate technology in their classrooms. Southern Hancock plans to spearhead a project to create flexible learning spaces that will allow students to put technology to use: areas where students could fly a drone, use 3-D printers or produce videos using green-screen technology, for example.
Mt. Vernon and Southern Hancock were among 64 school districts statewide that applied for the grant, according to a news release from the department of education. Thirty-two corporations received up to $75,000 to implement digital learning initiatives; some will invest the funding in one-to-one computing, which puts a school-issued computer in each student’s hands. Others will expand digital learning programs already in place. The districts selected must use the funds by the end of 2018.
Mt. Vernon fully implemented a take-home computer program during the 2015-16 school year, giving each student in the district a computer to use at school and home, especially when school is canceled because of bad weather. During the past two years, teachers and students have become more comfortable using laptops and iPads to complete assignments, Superintendent Shane Robbins said.
Historically, teachers have pursued technology training off campus, Robbins said. Hiring technology coaches will allow the district to train on site with experts in school technology.
Greenfield-Central hired technology specialists a few years ago and has used them to lead digital learning efforts, including overseeing a team of student tech cadets who troubleshoot technology issues their teachers and classmates run into during class. Mt. Vernon educators consulted Greenfield-Central leaders about using technology coaches when pitching their grant application, Robbins said.
Robbins said some educators are already showing an affinity for implementing digital learning within their curriculum, and he’d likely move a current employee to the coaching position if possible and hire a new educator to take their place in the classroom.
Mt. Vernon will also use the funds to pay for professional development for staff, as well as repair or replace student devices.
The funds from the DOE are important because they empower schools to pursue new educational opportunities, Southern Hancock Superintendent Lisa Lantrip wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter.
The district will use the funds to design what educators call 21st-century learning spaces — areas within schools that provide hands-on and collaborative learning opportunities for students. At Southern Hancock, those spaces will allow students to use various technological devices.
The push for new 21st-century learning spaces came from evaluating student need and the growth educators have seen in certain programs, such as robotics, said Chris Young, the district’s technology expert, who is spearheading the implementation of flexible learning spaces.
“Many of today’s students enjoy learning with their hands and also in collaborative groups,” he said.