EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Shakespeare's Hamlet reminds us that "The readiness is all." Well, the East Brunswick Public Schools are indeed ready, ready to face a future of education innovation and contemporary formats for teaching and learning. As participants in New Jersey's "Future Ready Schools" program, the EBPS join forces with the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the New Jersey School Boards Association, and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to make sure that local students and teachers have what they need to use technology in a flexible, progressive way in a world that orbits in cyberspace.
"We are preparing ourselves to use evolving technology. We want our students to be ready for their future, and we need to be sure that they are savvy enough to participate fully and creatively, " said Superintendent Victor Valeski in an interview last week.
"We want to create learning environments that meet next generation learners and drive mastery," he added, after describing the preparatory process for East Brunswick's involvement in Future Ready Schools.
Recently, the district did a complete evaluation of available technology in the district and its applicability for future instruction under the direction of Dr. Joyce Boley, Director of Instructional Innovation and Community Outreach. "Joyce has done a great job, " said Valeski, "We want to be cutting edge, but we want to be thoughtful and concentrate on programs that consistently offer relevant opportunities."
The schools' involvement in this program has been cost-free so far. It consisted of the evaluation of resources in a detailed format to be presented to the Future Ready NJ group. When the information is processed, districts in the program will participate in a 5-year technology program overseen by NJIT. "The vision is to foster the effective use of digital learning tools by educators, so that all students will be college- and career-ready citizens, able to be productively engaged in the digital universe," according to Dr. Joel S. Bloom, President of NJIT, as quoted on the Future Ready Schools site.
Locally, the schools in Spotswood, South Brunswick, Old Bridge, North Brunswick, New Brunswick, Franklin Township, and the Greater Brunswick Charter Schools have participated in the evaluation of their districts' present technology assets. Some colleges -Seton Hall University, Centenary College - and corporate and public concerns - McGraw-Hill Publishing, the Liberty Science Center - are also getting on board. Districts will be notified in October concerning their acceptance into the program.
Valeski stressed the need for the district to look at the future value of all technology and its creative use moving forward so that investments or district funds are not wasted: "We have to evaluate how instructional time will be spent moving forward. The cell phone has changed the world. Learning is not confined to the school day or the school house."
Boley went on to cite the amped-up use of technology in the district to create online courses like Financial Literacy at EBHS in which students learn in a fluid environment using project-based learning. "There is a 24-hour window of opportunity for student learning," she said, "New classroom environments present exciting opportunities to be creative in both teaching and learning." "Hybrid" courses available at EBHS that combine teacher flexibility and student initiative include SAT Math, SAT Verbal, Journalism, Creative Writing, Contemporary Issues in Science, and International Studies (Social Studies.)
Valeski and Boley mentioned "blended learning," an approach that benefits from a variety of shots on a learning target. As defined by Educational Leadership magazine, "Blended learning, with its mix of technology and traditional face-to-face instruction... combines classroom learning with online learning, in which students can, in part, control the time, pace, and place of their learning."
They also mentioned "digital learning," in which students take online courses that provide immediate feedback and remediation.
First, though, the current technology needs to be evaluated to see if it meets both current needs and prepares for future ones.
East Brunswick Education Association President Dr. Dana Zimbicki acknowledged the success of current innovations in lesson design and the implementation of technology: "Teachers create windows of online accessibility that allow for increased contact time with students. So far, it has worked out well."
Zimbicki offered her hopes for the success of the Future Ready program: "Technology is so necessary for the future of education. Lots of teachers are getting involved. However, sometimes they still have to wait for technology to become available for them to use. Future Ready will allow us to purchase more technology and to purchase it more wisely with an eye to the future."
If Shakespeare was right, the East Brunswick Public Schools are ready to go.