Transforming Education in the Greenwich Public Schools:
Digital Learning Environment
In April 2013, the Greenwich Public Schools launched a three-year, three-phase Digital Learning Environment (DLE) initiative to advance the transformation of teaching and learning and to accelerate the academic achievement and personal well being of all students. The DLE is designed to provide teachers with the resources necessary to both innovate and differentiate instruction according to the needs of each student and for students to personalize their own learning, making choices about how they learn and present their new knowledge.
In Phase I, the DLE will serve as a catalyst for embracing the Common Core standards and other District initiatives and will prepare students to be successful on the SBAC, the new standardized assessment, which requires the use of a digital device beginning with a field test of the assessment in Spring 2014. Before the school year began, a project manager was contracted to implement the plan and a Director of Digital Learning and Technology was hired to oversee digital and learning information, and technology systems. The implementation of the DLE in this first stage also includes professional learning for teachers and the deployment of personal devices to teachers and students in the Phase I schools, Hamilton Avenue and Riverside.
In SY2014-15, Phase II of the GPS DLE will expand the 1:1 initiative to the secondary schools, specifically the 6th grade. Phase III in SY2015-16 calls for the deployment of personal devices to every student in the District. The phasing in of the devices allows the District to best plan for the technological, professional learning, and operational management needs associated with the initiative, and to resolve any issues prior to a large-scale investment. Ultimately, the DLE will enable teachers and students to access the strategies and resources to increase learning for our high-achievers, help our ‘middle achievers’ to reach higher, and to plug gaps in achievement for our struggling learners.
RECENT UPDATE: October 24, 2013 Digital Learning Environment Implementation Update Report
GPS Digital Learning Environment (DLE)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
(Posted November 15, 2013, Download pdf)
I. GPS’s Digital Learning Plan
Q1: Why is the District implementing a Digital Learning Environment?
The district is implementing a Digital Learning environment to give teachers and students the tools to personalize learning and to achieve the level of rigorous instruction required for a successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
Q2: What is the vision for the DLE implementation?
The vision for the digital learning environment as approved by the Greenwich Board of Education on April 4, 2013 is to “…build a personalized, Digital Learning Environment to boost academic achievement and better prepare students for college and the workforce.
We will blend the best digital tools with a standards-based curriculum, effective instructional practices, and robust teacher training and support. We will provide schools with research-based digital resources and instructional content from which teachers can choose to best address students’ unique needs.
The GPS Digital Learning Environment will help teachers personalize instruction through consistent and timely academic progress monitoring and targeted feedback to help students in areas of weakness. Ultimately, it will allow students to develop critical knowledge and skills to help them succeed in college and careers.”
Q3: What are the educational goals for the DLE implementation?
Five educational goals have been established for the implementation of the DLE. The Common Core, new Science, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and Universal Design for Learning standards all require shifts in the way teachers instruct and students learn that are aligned with and supported by a Digital Learning Environment.
The educational goals of the DLE are to:
1. better prepare students to be critical thinkers of online content;
2. personalize learning for students and teachers;
3. better enable students to regulate their own learning;
4. provide students with more high quality feedback from both teachers and other students; and
5. support a successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
Students as critical thinkers of online content will:
Define a problem
The amount of information available online is overwhelming. An important success factor in life is being able to find information on-line, evaluate the credibility of the source and information, synthesize information from multiple sources, and communicate your findings. Common Core standards require schools to teach students these critical skills used for conducting on-line research and solving problems in math, English Language arts, science and social studies, and the technical areas (Art, Music, and Physical Education are considered the technical areas).
Technology empowers fundamental shifts in the design of classroom learning environments. Each of the design elements below describes a transformative change in how classrooms can be reorganized by leveraging technology, often by scaling up teachers’ abilities to provide feedback and personalize instruction.
Quality teacher feedback – Research by author, John Hattie, indicates that “feedback is one of the top 10 influences on student achievement.” A Digital Learning environment exponentially expands the quality and amount of feedback students receive on their work. Using technology, teachers can embed verbal and written feedback directly into student work, quickly develop assessments to diagnose students’ strengths and areas for improvement, and easily share student work in a digital portfolio where feedback can be solicited from parents and peers.
Students as self reflective regulators of their learning – Students in a DLE gain access to learning content and skills dynamically through a device they control as opposed to accessing information from one human being, a rotating set of classroom books, or limited access to media center labs. When devices are used in a group setting, students can work more actively and collaboratively as they access information, solve problems, and communicate their answers using a digital toolkit providing expanded means of self-expression.
Personalized learning environment for each student - Through adaptive technology platforms, students’ needs are quickly diagnosed and personalized learning plans are created. These practices create immediate feedback, enabling students to progress at their own pace, time and place of learning. Technology also empowers student voice for those who are better able to communicate with the help of technology. Examples include threaded on-line discussions (where students who may be too shy to speak up in class feel comfortable writing their thoughts), assistive technology (e.g., Dragon Dictation or keyboarding for students for whom writing and/or handwriting is a barrier to expression), and improved access to powerful graphic design and multi-media tools for students who may be more facile showing rather than speaking their ideas.
Preparation for successful performance on new standardized test Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) - Connecticut students will be required to take Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests in 2014-15, with field testing commencing in Spring 2014. SBAC tests will assess mastery of the Common Core standards through newly created on-line digital assessments. The new assessments take into account the various needs of students by including universal tools (available for all students), designated supports (identified for some students by an adult) and accommodations. Teachers and students will prepare for the content of these tests by working through the Common Core standards. In addition, test preparation requires mastery of the technical operations required to complete the test including the ability to use the keyboard function keys to navigate around the test and use a split screen.
Q4: What is the rollout plan for the DLE?
The District is rolling out the DLE in three scaffolding phases:
- Phase I – The District will deploy one device for every student, administrator, and teacher (known as a “1:1 model”) at Hamilton Avenue and Riverside schools, while providing the staff at those buildings with intensive professional development in a partnership with November Learning. The web-based system Schoology will be used district-wide as a curriculum and instructional management system (CIMS) beginning in 2014, to support the online warehousing, distribution, and publication of curricular assets and data. CIMS access will be extended to parents and students after intensive professional development is provided for staff.
- Phase II – The District will expand the scope of the first phase to include the 6th grades of each middle school. These schools will have a 1:1 deployment, as well as intensive professional development supported by November Learning and Schoology.
- Phase III – The District will expand the scope of the first two phases to include all schools.
Further Support will include improvements and upgrades to internet access/network, identification and implementation of a curriculum and instructional management system (CIMS), and preparation for administering the SBAC. Simultaneously, the District is integrating the Common Core State Standards into the GPS curriculum, and preparing teachers for instruction to align with the standards.
Q5: How can my school benefit from the Digital Learning Environment (DLE) if it is not included in the current phase?
- All schools are currently engaged in some form of digital learning. The DLE will help standardize these practices.
- The Curriculum and Instructional Management System (CIMS) will enable all administrators and teachers to share their best practices and new lesson designs, and to participate in communities of practice to advance digital learning across the district.
- Using the CIMS, all teachers and building staff will have access to professional learning materials developed by November Learning, including a list of the Digital Toolbox applications and webinars on DLE educational goals. Additionally, through the CIMS, GPS teachers will have access to Common Core aligned “apptivities” and lessons elevated by technology as redesigned and submitted by teachers in Phase I schools
- All schools will benefit from the infrastructural improvements made to support the DLE, including an additional fiber optic connection at the high school, upgraded backbone switches at our district hubs, and an increased number of wireless access points at all schools.
- We will be updating all GPS stakeholders regularly on our DLE Project implementation status through various communications channels. Several advisory committees have been established representing District-wide interests that will provide input into the project including a Digital Learning Advisory Group (DLAC), an Ambassador Group consisting of parents, students, and community members, and Executive Technology Advisory Group (ETAG), an executive advisory group of technology experts from the business and higher education communities.
Q6: How does this new Digital Learning Environment (DLE) impact educators?
The DLE supports educators in better differentiating their teaching and personalizing learning for their students. Teachers will have access to a broader array of data to assess student needs. Teachers will also receive extensive professional learning and training opportunities both in the operation of digital tools, and their application in the classroom.
Q7: How does the Digital Learning Environment (DLE) improve the personal well-being of our students?
The DLE improves the well-being of students:
- by offering them access to the wealth of academic and research resources that are available on the internet;
- by allowing them to progress at their own pace in ways that suit their unique learning style;
- by providing them with an easy way to retrieve exemplary work from other students and reflect on their own work;
- by providing them with additional means of communication with their teachers that make it easier to obtain frequent, meaningful feedback on their work; and
- by increasing opportunities for students to meaningfully collaborate with their peers in support of their learning.
Q8: Is the Greenwich Public School’s Digital Learning Plan something new?
No. The 2013-2016 Digital Learning Plan has been built as a continuation of previous District Technology Plans and at least two years of small-scale digital learning pilots in our schools. The Board of Education adopted the 2013-2016 Digital Learning Plan on April 4, 2013.
II. Devices, Tools, Technology
Q9: What device, tools and technologies will be used in Phase I?
The Apple iPad has been chosen as the learning device for the Phase I schools. A “Digital Toolbox” (see appendix) of apps will be installed on each device, and academic resources will be warehoused in Schoology, the district’s selected Curriculum and Instructional Management System (CIMS). Devices and software for future phases will be selected in 2014.
Q10: When will the Phase I students receive the iPads?
Students at Hamilton Avenue and Riverside Elementary School will be given iPads in January of 2014.
Q11: Are these devices going home with the students?
Grades K-1 will not be taking the iPad home. Grades 2-5 will be allowed to take the iPad home only after completing a concentrated course on Digital Citizenship, with the expectation that parents monitor the device for appropriate usage and tips. The Digital Citizenship course will support students in the safe, ethical, legal, and constructive use of the iPad. There will be an opt out provision for parents who do not want their child to bring the device home, but they will have to certify that their student will have access to the Digital Toolbox applications on an electronic device outside of school to complete their assignments.
Q12: How often will my child use their personal learning device each day?
Students will use their personal learning devices at educationally-appropriate times. Examples of these scenarios may include:
- conducting internet research on a fourth grade social responsibility unit;
- creating a presentation with sound and video on colonial America; or
- completing several math problems on the equivalence of fractions that are scored immediately with subsequent targeted problems given to meet student needs.
Q13: What if my child breaks or loses their device?
The district is recommending that you purchase third party insurance to help secure your child’s device in the event of damage, or total loss. Third party plans are generally offered at a $50-70 premium per year of coverage, with a $50 deductible for each claim. Vendors commonly used for this service include Worth Ave Group and SquareTrade, although the district does not officially endorse any particular insurance vendor.
Q14: Does the District have the technological infrastructure to support this initiative?
Upgrades to the network were completed to sustain the infrastructure required to support an evolving digital learning environment. The State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) recommends 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for every thousand students, with a goal of expanding this to one gigabit. The district currently has access to the internet at a speed of 1 gigabit per second, via Connecticut Educational Network (CEN). Hence, the district meets SETDA’s recommendation with approximately 102mbps of access per 1000 users. However, access speeds in classrooms vary based upon the time of day, location, and the materials used to construct each classroom space. We continue to make investments in the infrastructure to upgrade switches, internal cabling, and access points as technology use expands within the district.
III. Professional Learning and Staffing
Q15: What is the professional learning plan for teachers?
Professional learning for educators, education leaders, and technology support personnel is critical to the success of the district’s digital transformation. Research shows that between 20-49 hours of professional development are required to boost student achievement. As part of the DLE initiative, the district has hired November Learning, an internationally renowned staff development organization, to provide teachers with training on how to align their instruction to the new Common Core Standards. November Learning will work with all Phase I teachers to build lesson plans in support of 21st century skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration as well as digital literacy skills in mathematics, English Language Arts, science, social studies, art, music and physical education.
The DLE initiative will provide an iPad training bootcamp. All teachers receiving iPads will be required to complete this training before receiving their device. The iPad training bootcamp will address topics such as basic care and use of the iPad, student safety, and mobile device management.
GPS also has a contract with a provider of on-line learning, Learning.com. Learning.com provides curriculum that allows students to practice keyboarding skills, provides the assessment used to measure student technological literacy, and has curriculum content on digital citizenship, covering topics on Internet Safety and Cyber Bullying.
Q16: Will all of the teachers and administrators be trained in Phase I?
All Phase I teachers, including preK, grades K-5 classroom teachers, and non-classroom teachers will be trained. In addition, all Phase I principals, assistant principals and media technicians will be trained.
Q17: How will our new Digital Learning Environment support the new Common Core State Standards?
Over 50% of the Common Core State Standards require the use of technology. For example, Common Core Standard, “CCR.W.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.” In order to effectively implement the Common Core State Standards, a digital learning environment is necessary.
Use of technology can also enhance instruction in mathematics, English Language Arts, science, social studies, art, music, physical education, and digital literacy skills by challenging students to vet and validate the vast amount of online information and by creating more exciting and interactive ways to read, access, organize, save and publish information.
Q18: Is the new Digital Learning Environment being adopted just for the Common Core State Standards?
No. Although Connecticut is one of 45 states (plus the District of Columbia) that has adopted the Common Core Standards requiring all students to use a digital device for assessment, we believe that technology can transform teaching and learning by creating a more personalized environment for students and providing them with the digital literacy skills needed to succeed as graduates.
Q19: What is the SBAC and will it replace the CMT and CAPT?
The SBAC is the new standardized test developed to assess student mastery of the Common Core State Standards. In order for our students to be successful on this new online assessment, they must be facile in their use of, not only the electronic device on which the exam will be taken, but also in their use of the digital tools and resources expected to be used on the assessment.
V. Project Management and Accountability
Q20: Who is accountable for the success of the digital learning initiative?
Superintendent – Ultimate accountability for digital learning and infrastructure lies with the Superintendent of Schools. In order to achieve success, the District has established the following structures for the project:
- Director of Digital Learning & Technology – This position, created from an existing staff line, will have lead responsibility for all educational and technical aspects of digital learning.
- Digital Learning Project Manager – This contracted position is responsible for managing the day-to-day implementation of the DLE initiative, coordinating the work of GPS staff in all project scope areas.
- Digital Learning Steering Committee – District and Phase I school leader project team responsible for implementing the plan.
- Digital Learning Advisory Committee – representative group (by grade level and subject area) of teachers will provide feedback and guidance on digital learning.
- Superintendent’s Executive Technology Advisory Group – business and higher education experts in digital technology and systems to advise District administration
- Ambassador group – A group of parents, students, and other community members to advise District administration
Q21: What policies and procedures are in place for the DLE?
GPS is currently reviewing policies/procedures to support the DLE including:
- Student device take-home policy (responsibilities for damage, charging the device at home, etc.)
- Acceptable Use Policy
- Intellectual property ownership of district employee created resources, especially as put into CIMS
- What aggregated non-identifiable student data we collect and disclose – e.g., what content students are consuming outside and inside of school on their iPad
- Does the district control all data on students retrieved from the district-provided device?
- How the gradebook should be used/communicated with parent.
- How the CIMS should be used/communicated with parents/students.
VII. Evaluation and Outcomes
Q22: How will the DLE initiative be evaluated?
A rigorous program evaluation plan has been developed to assess the success of the DLE initiative in school year 2013-14.
The program evaluation will answer the following questions:
1) What practical steps were planned in order to implement a Digital Learning Environment in the Greenwich Public Schools and what was the intended impact of each?
2) To what extent has each step been implemented to date?
3) What changes have arisen in the skills and practice of teachers, school administrators, and students since the initiation of the DLE?
The components of the evaluation will include:
1) Professional learning participant satisfaction and evidence of growth surveys
2) Participant (building administrators, teachers, coaches, media specialists, students) technology readiness and skills
3) Participant exhibition of new skills and behaviors observed during the GPS instructional practice peer review walk-through process
4) Changes in student work
5) Organizational support
6) Comparative analysis of student performance on an adaptive learning platform
VIII. More information
Q23: Where can I go to get more information? Ask questions?
Regular updates on the DLE initiative will be provided through a District Web Site (www.greenwichschools.org/dle) DLE Newsletter and through the Director of Digital Learning, Phil Dunn’s, Twitter account @philhdunn. In addition, school principals and teachers are encouraged to blog and share information on the use of technology within their schools and classrooms. You can provide feedback or ask questions by contacting Greenwich_DLE@greenwich.k12.ct.us.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a U.S. education initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment with each other by following the principles of standards-based education reform. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
The Common Core State Standards define the rigorous skills and knowledge in English Language Arts and Mathematics that need to be effectively taught and learned for students to be ready to succeed academically in credit-bearing, college-entry courses and in workforce training programs. These standards have been developed to be:
- Fewer, clearer, and higher, to best drive effective policy and practice;
- Aligned with college and work expectations, so that all students are
prepared for success upon graduating from high school;
- Inclusive of rigorous content and applications of knowledge through higher-order skills, so that all students are prepared for the 21century;
- Internationally benchmarked, so that all students are prepared for
succeeding in our global economy and society; and
- Research and evidence-based.
More information available at www.corestandards.org
Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)
Smarter Balanced is a state-led consortium developing assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English language arts/literacy and mathematics that are designed to help prepare all students to graduate high school college- and career-ready. More information available at www.smarterbalanced.org
DLAC – Digital Learning Advisory Committee
DLEA – Digital Learning Environment Ambassadors
ETAG – Executive Technology Advisory Group
 “Visible Learning for Teachers,” John Hattie, 2012.
 Desimone, Laura, “Improving Impact Studies of Teachers’ Professional Development: Toward Better Conceptualizations and Measures,” Educational Researcher, 2009; 38; 181.
Yoon, K.S., Duncan, T, Lee, S. W.-Y., Scarloss, B, & Shapley, K., “Reviewing the Evidence of How Teacher Professional Development Affects Student Achievement,” (Issues & Answer Report, REL 2007-No. 033) Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education and Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gove/ncee/edlabs.