Supporting Research

Stafford MSD is in the midst of an ambitious advance in technology education.  Not only is the district opening a STEM Magnet school, at the High School we are transitioning much of our education onto the Blackboard Online system.  As well as these initiatives, Stafford is working closely with Apple as it advances its own Apple Education initiatives.  I was asked, as part of Stafford and Apple’s Education partnership, to work towards a Master’s Degree, a big part of which was to create my own innovation plan for the district.

As I surveyed the initiatives already in process, it struck me that the best thing that I could do would be to throw my support behind the current initiatives rather than to add another to the already full plate.  So, I researched the benefits of an early champion of change for implementation of Blackboard.  As I delved deeper, it became evident that to fully leverage the capabilities of online learning, teachers could not simply transfer what they had been doing before to the new platform.  Instead, what I needed to do would be to add Apple’s suite of software to my curriculum – both in teaching and in student work.  With this, my innovation plan expanded.  Finally, I realized that Blackboard provided a huge opportunity to correct many of the flaws of the classroom model by allowing me to set the curriculum so that each student can work at their own pace.

These three innovations came together to become my plan to help Stafford High School grow and flourish in the coming years.  First: help the faculty to embrace the opportunities that Blackboard opens up; second, to find ways to expand my instruction to include audio, video, and even augmented reality – and furthermore allow students to demonstrate their learning through these means as well; and third, to develop dynamic lesson plans that allow students to learn the TEKS at their own pace.

To enable me to implement this vision, and to increase the students’ technology literacy, I am asking for a class set of iPads and pencils.  This way, each day every student will be able to access the curriculum, their notes, and their work regardless of their household income levels.  Furthermore, since I teach both regular and Pre-AP Chemistry courses, and the students will be working at their own pace, I would like the ability to move high-performing students from regular Chemistry up to Pre-AP Chemistry, and struggling Pre-AP students down to regular Chemistry classes throughout the first semester.  

Research into the benefits of online instruction is extensive and has undoubtedly been reviewed thoroughly by the Board prior to making the decision to pursue this.  Instead, I looked into how effective having a champion for the change is to the adoption of a new technology.  From my research, a quote by Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) stood out:  “This year’s study also suggests that the greatest current impediment is probably undersupported faculty. Faculty need reasonable evidence about which technologies most benefit students, and they need help incorporating those technologies into their teaching.”  This affirmed my own experience, and I believe that showing the faculty that not only will adopting the Blackboard LMS save them time and stress by removing many of the more tedious aspects of teaching, it will more importantly, give them the ability to provide their students with a better, more rounded education.  This win-win scenario should bring the next wave of faculty on board, which in turn will further the success of the Blackboard implementation.

Our partnership with Apple creates a nice opportunity to learn and leverage the range of software Apple makes to enhance student learning.  Yet, I can personally attest that it is one thing to “know” that Apple has these products and capabilities, and quite another thing to walk up to someone with an iPad and have that person show you how you can create your own Augmented Reality in mere minutes.  This five-minute tutoring took a cutting edge, seemingly very complicated, technology and eliminated false preconceptions about how difficult learning something like this can be.  I believe that a guided utilization of Apple’s suite of software will remove the mystery from technology and change the attitude from “I can’t do something like that” to “I’ve done similar stuff already, so this should be easy to learn too.”  That is the mentality of a college and career ready student.  Learning these non-specific tools will also help create engagement in students who don’t ever see themselves needing to know Chemistry for their future career plans.

Care must be taken to teach students to properly take notes using an iPad.  There are several apps that I will investigate that may aid us with this, such as Evernote, Notability, and Penultimate.  Research into this was summarized by the article “Note Taking and Handouts in the Digital Age” by Elizabeth Stacy Moore and Jeff Cain (2015)

“Based on research regarding cognitive functions of note-taking, a variety of factors make note-taking apps appealing. In order for learning apps to be effective, they must accommodate an active note-taking process and enable efficient review of those notes. An application that simply allows students to copy and paste prewritten notes without including their own definitions or elaborations is much less effective than one that encourages personally written language. While verbatim notes may be more accurate, the benefit of “process” is absent, and therefore, lessens the effects of the learning experience. Apps that permit students to draw upon, edit, summarize, and highlight handouts in a manner that allows cognitive involvement in the note-taking process are most beneficial to learning.”

The University of Notre Dame studied a class that used iPads exclusively and concluded

“… our findings suggest the greatest value of the iPad may not be its ability to function as an eBook reader but instead its capacity to function as a consolidator or aggregator of information. Second, a statistically significant proportion of students felt the iPad, 1) makes class more interesting, 2) encourages exploration of additional topics, 3) provides functions/tools not possible with a textbook, and 4) helps students more effectively manage their time.”

Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, the adoption of Blackboard provides the opportunity for students to learn at their own pace.  Self-Paced Learning addresses many of the frustrations of both student and teacher.  More advanced students get bored having to wait and do nothing while the other students are brought up to speed.  Slower students feel pushed to keep up, and may resort to simply copying the assignment to get it done and keep pace.  Neither of these groups is learning.  SPL will resolve this and ensure that every student is appropriately engaged at all times.

A further benefit of Self-Paced Learning is that the teacher utilizing their expertise most efficiently.  The lecture is presented individually via online pre-recorded lecture.  (Every lecture is the teacher’s best lecture!)  During class, the teacher is freed up to respond to students’ individual questions as they work on comprehension.  The teacher isn’t stuck explaining the basics to a whole class but instead is working 1 on 1 with students on specific questions.

In summary, I am excited by the opportunity to implement this innovation plan.  I anticipate the ultimate win-win:  better student learning and performance and less teacher time and stress.


Eden Dahlstrom, with D. Christopher Brooks, Susan Grajek, and Jamie Reeves. ECAR Study of Students and Information Technology, 2015. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, December 2015.

Elizabeth Moore Stacy and Jeff Cain (2015). Note-taking and Handouts in The Digital Age. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education: Volume 79, Issue 7, Article 107.

Angst, C. and E. Malinowski (2010). Findings from eReader Project, Phase 1: Use of iPads in MGT40700, Project Management,” University of Notre Dame Working Paper Series. Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame,

Brindley J.E., Walti, C, & Blaschke L. M. (2009). Creating effective  collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open  and Distance Learning, 10(3).

Means, B. (2010). Technology and education change: Focus on student learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(3),285-307

U.S. Department  of Education, Office  of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American education: Learning powered bytechnology: National educational technology plan 2010: Executive summary. Washington, DCKharbach, M. (2012).Teachers guide to the 21st century learning model: Connected learning. Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.