How Emily Garrison and PAUSD are Raising Student Achievement
As the Coordinator of Educational Technology and Libraries in the Palo Alto School District, Emily Garrison passionately embraces the interaction of content and technology to prepare students and teachers for the classroom of the future.
“Educators may know little of what is to come, but one thing we do know is that the connections between humans and technology will only continue to grow,” she says.
A History of Innovation
Early on, Emily and her school district colleagues in Palo Alto were open to using new technology. At a time when learning management systems were only an emerging concept in K-12, Palo Alto recognized Schoology as “a platform for the modern classroom.”
Five years after adopting the platform, all teachers in the district use the LMS in some capacity. At the minimum teachers post their assignments, tests, and projects in the calendar. Some teachers deliver all their course materials and assessments via the platform.
This year, Schoology’s assessment management platform (AMP) is being rolled out to all secondary teachers in Emily’s district. This “will bring our Schoology use to a whole new level and allow our PLCs to function well by providing us with quick and specific performance data,” Emily explains.
Empowering Teachers to Create Unique Experiences
Emily is especially excited about “power users”. These are the most innovative teachers with robust digital classrooms.
Palo Alto’s power users “post assignments, use discussion boards, include links and folders of content; evaluate students through online tests, quizzes, and ePortfolios; and communicate with students and parents by sending updates and messages,” Emily says.
These teachers—who have also been certified in blended learning—have created “a unique definition of blended learning, that, to our knowledge, does not exist in any other public school district,” Emily explains. “We do not use purchased curriculum. PAUSD blended learning teachers create and manage all course content, creating a unique online experience.”
Emily says their technology and strategy have played vital roles in enabling this independence and creativity because “they have provided the digital structure for these learning experiences,” she adds.
Students Sound Off on Blended Learning
Emily is pleased to report that students surveyed about blended learning have been “overwhelmingly positive”.
As one student writes, flexibility is key. “We get the traditional classroom experience, but we also get the flexibility of time each week to do what is best for us," the student explains. "This allows us to stay on task for work but also to better take care of ourselves.”
Students also have the sense that they’re getting things done. One student said “time is used efficiently.” Another called the LMS “a great way to be productive on another level.”
The Goal of Continuous Improvement
Emily explains that they are equipping students with a “21st Century educational modality”—the ability to analyze and respond to content in a digital environment.
Asked to define what achievement looks like, Emily is quick to answer, “Achievement means successfully preparing our students for their future by providing them with essential 21st Century skills—like technology skills and global competencies—while also helping students master content knowledge and grow into healthy and positive young adults.”