Digital learning to increase student choice in Osseo Area Schools, district says

The use of digital learning tools in the Osseo Area School District has and will continue to increase student choice and individualization of learning for students, according to district administration.
Some boardmembers are concerned about the potential health effects of increases in screen time and the effect on achievement outcomes for students, however. In the district, the use of iPads and digitally-based learning software such as the application Schoology has increased significantly in the last school year, data shows.
Tim Wilson, chief technology officer, along with other school administrators presented preliminary survey data, as well as other data the district has collected on digital learning tools. Survey data was collected from students, teachers and parents in the district with questions related to both digital learning trends and the use of Schoology in the district at the board’s May 2 work session.
Data in this preliminary presentation came from more than 1,000 volunteer students in the district who completed the survey on their own time. The district also surveyed students in 27 randomly selected classes across the district with students from grades 4-12. Teachers in these classes completed surveys, as well as parents of students in sampled classes. An additional 191 teachers beyond these sample classes were also polled. Data is still being collected from each of the surveys.
Wilson said that the results were generally positive, and the district is moving towards its goal of expanded blended learning opportunities and personalized learning. Some discrepancies in the data, where one or more of the three groups surveyed were significant outliers, need to be further explored, Wilson said.
Broadly, the district has 17,896 digital devices being used by students and staff in the district. Students below the fourth-grade level do not take their digital devices home, and the devices are not distributed on a one-to-one basis for this age group.
There are 1,203 devices for grades 2-3, 3,250 for grades 4-5, 4,596 for middle school students, 6,717 for high school students, and 2,130 for staff members.
For students who use iPads, 96 percent said they had access to a wireless network at home. The district is considering ways to provide access to a wireless network for the students that do not have an existing home network, such as mobile hotspots that could be borrowed by students when they need them.
Approximately 90 percent of students said they use their iPads between a few times a week and almost every day.
Compared to 2015, surveyed students said they use their iPads approximately 5 percent more often for school work. However, approximately 4 percent fewer students in 2017 said they use their iPads at home for school work.
While approximately 75 percent of students said iPads improve their organization and study habits, approximately 30 percent of teachers and 60 percent of parents agreed. Results were similar for Schoology and student organization, with more students reporting that they have an easier time staying organized than teachers or parents.
Use of Schoology among students has increased significantly, with approximately eight times more total site visits than the previous year. Approximately four times more comments and six times more quizzes were submitted than during the 2015-2016 school year than the previous year.
The district offered 50 blended courses in the 2016-2017 school year, as opposed to 35 the previous year. Enrollments in blended courses have increased by 22 percent.
The district’s priority work with digital tools through 2018 strives for more personalized learning in path, place and pace though the increased use of digital tools.
Approximately 75 percent of surveyed students said that a few times a week or almost every day teachers provided choices in how students use technology in what, where and how they learn. Approximately 50 percent of teachers and 40 percent of parents gave the same response.
“This one really gets to the heart of what we’re talking about for next years priority work,” Wilson said. “It is increasing the likelihood that students will have more voice, more choice, in what and how they learn, and so I’m excited about this question because … it provides some good baseline data,” he said.
“This is something we can ask again in a year,” Wilson said.
In open-ended questions, students generally responded positively to the use of technology in their learning, particularly in their organization skills, according to Thomas Watkins, coordinator of research and assessment. Challenges that students mentioned tend to relate to a difficulty focusing when using digital learning tools, Watkins said.
Approximately 12.7 percent of surveyed students reported that they were cyber-bullied in the past year. Approximately 8 percent of parents reported that their child had been cyber-bullied. Eighth grade students in the district are somewhat less likely to be cyber-bullied than the state average, and students in ninth grade and 11th grade are as likely as the state average to be cyber-bullied, according to Watkins.
Students and teachers responded quite differently in regards to students using technology in healthy and balanced way. While approximately 80 percent of surveyed students agreed or strongly agreed that students use technology in a healthy and balanced way, less than 30 percent of teachers said the same. However, this could be due to the wording of the survey question, with teachers considering larger picture questions of technological use by students rather than considering the context of the classroom.
There was a similar disconnect between students and teachers with questions related to critical thinking. While approximately 85 percent of surveyed students said they evaluate and think critically about online media, fewer than 30 percent of teachers agreed.
Boardmember Mike Ostaffe said he wanted to see more details on how the use of digital tools has impacted student achievement. The district should find a way to better track how many students are using their iPads and for what period of time they use them.
“None of these [survey] questions answer the question, ‘Did this improve the educational outcome of the student who’s using this device?’” Ostaffe said.
The district did not have data comparing paper use to previous years prepared for this presentation.
There are no specific guidelines at the district-wide level for how many assignments should or should not be completed in Schoology, according to Superintendent Kate Maguire.
Some board members said the district needs to consider the physiological effects of screen time for children. For instance, sleep patterns can be effected by screen colors, Ostaffe said.
Boardmember Heather Douglass said she was concerned that some teachers may be over-assigning digitally-based work and that students could be negatively impacted. Boardmember Robert Gerhart agreed and said the science behind understanding how technology is impacting children is still in its early stages.
Wilson said that digital versions of textbooks are not necessarily less expensive than physical textbooks.
Boardmember Jim Burgett said he thinks the increase in the use of digital tool is beneficial to students who no longer have to carry around as many textbooks and other course materials.
“Have you lifted up your child’s backpack lately?” Burgett said. “Why force your children to carry all that around every day?”
The district’s digital learning priority work began in 2013, with the first blended course offering beginning in September 2015.

Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]