March 19, 2011 in Washington Voices

Teachers get technical

School Fusion software allows students another layer of education outside the classroom
By The Spokesman-Review

Teachers in the West Valley School District are changing the way they communicate with students and their parents, thanks to a technology levy that has enabled them to upgrade their websites.

A program called School Fusion allows teachers to post quizzes, discussions, blogs and even pictures and video to their own pages. Students can log in, join the conversation and, if they happen to miss a class, they can hear recordings of what went on in their absence.

“It’s very easy to use,” said Julie Poage, principal of West Valley Academy.

Before the teachers can start using the new software, they need to learn how to use it. Teachers who have knowledge of the technology are teaching other teachers in a series called the Tech Academy. For every hour of instruction a teacher receives, they can earn credits to purchase new equipment for their classrooms such as small hand-held video recorders or Smartboards.

Kamiel Youseph has been an English teacher at West Valley High School for 11 years, but is enjoying the new ways to connect with students.

“I haven’t been this excited since I started (here),” he said.

Youseph also teaches an introduction to multimedia to his fellow teachers. He said he posts podcasts of classroom discussions, includes assignments and their due dates and links to websites that help his students with their lessons.

If a student is absent from a class, he or she can log in and hear the lectures.

“The kids don’t really miss out,” Youseph said.

At a recently Tech Academy class, he was showing teachers how to create slideshows with soundtracks and discussed the merits of hand-held video cameras.

Poage said School Fusion went live on on Jan. 1. A student will log in and respond to discussions under a pseudonym. The program will monitor inappropriate language and alert staff to review it at a later time.

She said teachers are able to post a syllabus of their classes, something that is common in many college courses but isn’t used often at the high school level.

Natalie Andres is a first-grade teacher at Orchard Center Elementary. In Youseph’s Tech Academy class, she was posting several pictures of a brassica seed and its growth. She later posted it to her classroom’s page.

“The new program is way easier,” she said. “It’s so easy I’m teaching a class.”

Poage said she has high hopes for where technology is taking the schools. At some point she said Superintendent Polly Crowley envisions a day when students can stay home on a snow day, but not miss out on classes.

Although the program is all voluntary, she said many teachers are taking what they have learned and running with it.

“There’s some really creative things going on,” she said.

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