The future of IT in education: An interview with David Cagigal of the Department of Enterprise Technology

David Cagigal, CIO of the Wisconsin Department of Enterprise Technology, has seen the future of education up front and personal, and he knows firsthand that information technology will play a transformative role. In this interview, Cagigal discusses how Wisconsin is laying the groundwork for a technological version of No Child Left Behind. Here are excerpts of our recent talk.

Jonathan Ravdin (president and CEO of Paragon Development Systems) has talked about using collaboration technology as an example of helping school districts stretch their resources and gain access to kids from remote locations. From your vantage point, what is the role of IT in education reform or qualitative improvements?
IT is a critical ingredient for making a difference in education reform, and more specifically for students of color who have been left behind. It’s a great way of accelerating the pace of learning for many students who have been left behind.

Let me draw a scenario for you. I was a CIO at Dubuque Community School District from February to July of 2012. I got to see the practice of 21st century learning strategies up front, close, and personal. They had recently invested in a massive infrastructure implementation. Had we to do it all over again, we probably would lessen that investment in physical equipment and leverage many of the applications in the cloud. But once you go to the cloud, you need a significant amount of broadband capability for every school, every classroom. You’ve got to be prepared to lay the infrastructure, the pipe if you will, before you put in an e-book or an e-curriculum, a learning management system, or a student information system in the cloud. That will address the physical investment, not only in hardware but also in staff to monitor that.

So as I work with Kurt Kiefer (assistant state superintendent, division for libraries and technology) in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, we’re looking at the broadband capabilities today and at future needs. We’re looking at a classroom that may have 25 or 30 students, all of them with a BYOD (bring your own device), all of them hitting enter at the same time, all of them having sufficient bandwidth to access the cloud applications.

In addition to that, if we can get all that working, then we can look at student one-offs. Every student, if they are in a book or a curriculum, when they complete chapter one at their pace, they will pass a set of questions that are in the book, online, and they get the privilege of going on to Chapter 2.

Now, in that model, that pedagogy, the teacher can allow students to learn at their own pace, meaning that a part of the class will still be on Chapter 1, while others will be on Chapter 2, and that’s okay. The teacher will have a dashboard that has a result of the online activity and the amount of clicks and the people who have passed the test, and she will be able to sit in her classroom and understand the pace of each student, and the fact that they vary is okay.

So when you look at students that are behind, that will take more time, we are going to flip the classroom where they spend more hours at home or after school online, and the teacher will know that by the amount of seconds or hours or minutes that they are connected, or the number of clicks, or the number of tests they pass. They should be able to track and monitor 24-hour progress to the students’ ability to take the extra time and the extra effort.

In today’s model, the teacher will give a lesson and in 15 minutes, she’s discussed the essence of that chapter, and she’s moving on, and she’s got 30 kids moving on. Some of them have been left behind.

Some of them are left behind without having mastered the curriculum.
That is the key point. They can go ahead and take an extra amount of time in the evening and review the lesson online again, and again, and again until they have mastered it. So they don’t fall behind. They keep pace at their own pace. Everyone does not need to be on Chapter 2 at the same time, but as long as they are finished with the book by the end of the semester, that is their obligation, but they can individualize their lesson plans accordingly. The teacher can manage the track and make sure all the questions are being answered, and make sure that she’s monitoring the progress adequately. Individualized-pace learning, authored by technology, will allow many students of color ultimately to succeed.


What about the potential for economically disadvantaged children, whose parents want educational alternatives, to leverage technology like an online charter school? Is that a viable option?
First of all, let’s address the nature of a home for a student of color that is living below the poverty line. They need a device, and the school may be in a position to loan the device to take home because we’re also talking about parental engagement. We’re also talking about the parents tracking the calendar, and the assignment, and the grades, and the activities of the students in addition to the teacher, so there is a dual responsibility between the parents and the teacher 24/7. That would facilitate that engagement with the parent if they took a device home on a loaned basis from the school.

Secondly, I was just at Chippewa Valley [Technical College] in Eau Claire, and they have implemented a significant WiMax capability that addresses the Internet service provider and the network connection for low-income families, which also addresses the connectivity issue. Everything else falls by the wayside. You just need the device and network connectivity for students of color or students living below the poverty line. Where there is a will, there is a way. We should be able to figure that out. If in Madison we don’t have WiMax, there are subsidies to be paid to the ISPs.

So in loaning out the enabling device, the school district treats the device like any textbook the students would take home.
Correct. It’s going to take multiple elements of technology, multiple relationships of the staff, the teachers, the parents, and the student, to make all of this come together. It’s a tightly integrated education model, with everyone having a role and responsibilities, and with schools trying to economize by introducing broadband and cloud applications for individual-paced learning.

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