Matt Grose is chair of the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative, Superintendent of Deer River Schools, a Blandin Broadband Strategy Board member,  on the Governor’s Broadband Task Force and very much admired member of the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success. Connect Minnesota’s Wil Payton recently interviewed Matt for their Education Month blog post. Read about how Deer River Schools are using technology to enhance learning.

By Wil Payton

Matt Grose

Matt Grose

Matt Grose is the superintendent of Deer River Public Schools. He also has served as principal of Deer River High School and as a math and computer science teacher in Circle Pines, Minn. He was a member of the first cohort of educational leaders in the nation to enter a program of study focused solely on technology leadership in education.

Grose is a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband and the Blandin Foundation’s Broadband Strategy Board.

He provided insights on the implementation and integration of technology in Minnesota schools for this Q&A.

What are some of your observations on the integration of technology initiatives in Minnesota schools?

Computers have progressed from a stand-alone subject area to a tool for helping kids learn more effectively. Now, with the proliferation of handheld devices students are now able to take that learning anywhere they want whenever they want. That is one of the biggest shifts that I have seen.

Can you point out some implementation challenges?

We are very rural. My district covers 540 square mile and there are about 870 students in the district—less than 2 kids per square mile. A lot of the district is covered by dense forest and this lack of population makes it difficult for providers to develop a business case for broadband expansion. And the heavily forested area makes wireless a less than ideal solution because trees gobble that wireless right up. In town, here in rural Minnesota; I have higher broadband speeds than in the metro Twin Cities area. But in my district, 30 miles away, there are people whose only option is satellite, which is terrible especially for the way that we are trying to leverage the Internet for education. Anytime there is a giant divide like that it makes it difficult figure out when it’s OK to make that type of learning experience the normal way to do business.

How did the TelePresence program get started?

(Note: Cisco TelePresence is a product developed by Cisco Systems which provides high-definition 1080p video, spatial audio, and a setup designed to link two physically separated rooms so they resemble a single conference room regardless of location)

Our district is a part of a collaborative of districts and, a couple of years ago, we had a compelling event, which is a phrase we like to use to describe an event that comes up that forces your decision. One of the districts had a foreign language teacher leave and they were unable to replace that person. So we were in a position regionally where were going to have an entire district that was going to be unable to offer foreign language to their children and we collectively didn’t think that was OK. We saw that as an opportunity to really leverage technology. We did a landscape scan to see what was out there. We had ITV in the past but really didn’t like that experience for our kids so we landed on TelePresence as our solution. Currently we have six, 18 seat TelePresence rooms and 18 single screen studio units in our region. The first year we offered two courses. This year we will offer between 25-30 courses that will range from languages to physics.

What are some of the implementation lessons learned?

In the TelePresence experience we had some culture pieces in terms of staff development. On the front end our teachers were reluctant to give up paper as a means to do homework exchanges or workflow and really that’s a cultural issue. Our teachers were doing a lot of faxing back and forth and assignments were coming in on paper. When we sat back and looked at it we realized that we had cutting-edge technology and we were using 1980’s technology along side it and that really didn’t make sense. In technology implementation projects, I don’t think that I have ever heard someone say we had too much professional development. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the initiative and assume that excitement is going to be enough to automatically ensure success. When we fail to address culture and when we fail to address process we have issues.

What have you learned in terms of the positive impact of technology on education?

One of my teachers share a Facebook post that a student had written. The student said “Thanks Mrs. Sheppard for using technology in your class. It was the same thing that we used in college and I am way ahead of the game.” Those are the kind of things that we really thrive on. We prepared this kid, he got to college and that academic shift wasn’t a big deal for him because he was prepared for it.

We had students take virtual field trips to places like the Smithsonian, the Wolf Center in Minnesota, various zoos. When you are hundreds of miles from anywhere the kids really miss out.

As far as our experience with devices, we are in the middle of an one-to-one iPad initiative. As far as the outcome from the initiative we saw behavior referrals go down last year. Attendance was up especially with some of our most at-risk student. Chronic truancy was down. Is it a causal relationship? Obviously nobody is going to do statistics on this but when we ask the kids how come they are coming to school the say “it’s more interesting now.”

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