Liberating Teachers

How purposeful technology integration allows teachers to facilitate deep, individualized learning for all students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Bridgette Wagoner and Matt Nelson

In spite of having nearly 1,600 iPads in a 1:1 setting, the Waverly-Shell Rock Community School District does not have a technology initiative. A K-12 district of just under 2,300 students in suburban Iowa, Waverly-Shell Rock (WSR) is nonetheless all about student learning. Just like decisions about curriculum, assessment, and professional development, decisions about the allocation of tech resources are based on the district’s work to inspire fundamental changes throughout the district. While this progress was already underway in the district, the addition of a new Aruba wireless LAN and an infusion of technology accelerated the rate of change.

The driving force behind the decision to provide every student in grades 5-12 with an iPad at WSR Middle School and WSR High School was a desire to provide necessary tools and resources for a progressive learning environment characterized by flexibility, collaboration, personalization, creativity, and technology-rich learning. In essence, readily available technology should be the floor on which quality learning can be built. A statewide focus on five characteristics of effective instruction in Iowa further shapes the changing learning landscape at WSR:

  • Student centered learning
  • Teaching for understanding
  • Assessment for learning
  • Rigorous and relevant curriculum and
  • Teaching for learner differences.

Teachers throughout the district integrate technology in a seamless and timely fashion to make things that were previously impossible possible. Students have immediate and fluid access to information and resources that help answer their questions. Access to technology and changes in instructional approaches have led a shift from content consumption to real-time content curation and creation. The 1:1 setting allows teachers to plan around learning, rather than technology, empowering both students and teachers to use technology like adults do in the real world, accessing and using purposeful technology-based tools anytime a task calls for them—and setting them aside when the they are not needed.

The combination of technology infusion and a focus on changing the way students learn has had a transformational effect on teachers and students in the district. Many teachers have moved along a continuum from simply digitizing what they’ve always done in the classroom to exploring new ways of teaching and learning that are more collaborative, interactive and inquiry based. High school teacher Barb Bates explains:

“In my anatomy and physiology class students take photos through the eyepiece of a microscope using their iPads. They can study specimens by zooming in on the photo. We can identify specific things they are seeing in their microscope by using the iPad photo. In the past this was difficult. We used a scope camera and discussed as a whole class. Now the instruction can be differentiated for each group. We’ve discovered that the iPad is an incredible tool for learning.”

Providing an iPad for everyone has leveled the playing field for students as well, so that every student has equal access to a variety of tools and resources and new opportunities for deep and engaging learning experiences. Middle School principal, Roger Wilcox says the 1:1 initiative “is an equalizer among diverse socio-economic and academic subgroups. Talented and gifted students can do enrichment and extension activities through individual research and creative outlets, and remedial students can use apps that read text to them and offer practice of needed skills. All students have an iPad with the same durable case, charger and earbuds. It’s no status symbol to carry an iPad; it’s a necessary tool for school.”

The infusion of technology has also helped erase the disparity between the technology students and teachers use at home and what they use in the school-based learning environment. In the CDW-G 2011 21st-Century Classroom Report, CDW-G reported that 94 percent of high school students already use technology to study or work on homework assignments and the same high percentage believe that technology skills will improve both their educational and career opportunities. Waverly-Shell Rock is among a growing number of districts that recognize the value of ensuring that today’s learners have access to the same tools in the classroom that they do at home.

Learning at WSR is a continuous dynamic interaction among students, educators, parents, and the extended community. Infusion of technology enables anywhere, anytime learning that is no longer limited by the four walls of a classroom or building. Purposeful technology integration liberates teachers from being deliverers of content and, instead, allows them to be facilitators of deep, individualized learning for all students.


Bridgette Wagoner is the Director of Educational Services and Matt Nelson is the Director of Technology at Waverly-Shell Rock Schools in Waverly, Iowa. 


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