CVU makes technology an academic priority10/02/08

Oct. 2, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Champlain Valley Union High School teacher Charlie MacFadyen believes technology is the future of learning, and the more students use it now, the better off they’ll be in the future.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
CVU teacher Charlie MacFadyen became the school’s new technology integrationist this year.

A former math teacher, MacFadyen is now CVU’s technology integrationist, a newly created position aimed at making technology more available to teachers and students.

Along with a new computer programming class being taught by core math teacher Peter Booth, the high school is taking a big step forward, MacFadyen said.

“We’re putting technology on the same level of academics,” MacFadyen said.

Students are enjoying CVU’s focus on computers and technology as well. Williston senior Timothy Reichert said computer programs make education at the high school run more smoothly. And the addition of the computer programming class is helpful, he said.

“I feel that it will help me a lot as I progress through my education, and I think CVU should be commended for making it a high school offering,” Reichert said.

Williston senior Anne Bertolet agrees, and hopes the school can continue to be at the forefront of technology.

“Every year, there is always something new at CVU related to technology,” Bertolet said.

Tech integration

As the school’s technology integrationist, MacFadyen works closely with the school’s technology department, which includes staff members from the library, the audio-visual department and the information technology department.

In one part of MacFadyen’s job as technology integrationist, he instructs teachers how to best use technology in their classrooms. For instance, MacFadyen said he recently helped an English teacher set up an online discussion forum for students to communicate about the current British Literature unit.

MacFadyen has been using an online course management program called Moodle, which is geared towards academics. The program allows teachers to post course assignments and readings, tests and quiz dates, and allows students to comment on each other’s work.

Moodle can also be used for students on group projects, and allows them to work on online documents and make changes others can see almost instantly from different computers.

For a science class, MacFadyen used Moodle so students could post lab reports online and give recommendations to  peers.

“We’re allowing teachers to create Web-based activities and enhance student interaction,” MacFadyen said. “The way technology really transforms learning is through that collaborative piece.”

CVU Principal Sean McMannon said part of MacFadyen’s job has been to keep technology at CVU under one umbrella, with teachers using the same programs for consistency and avoiding a “network mess,” he said.

“We need to offer technological support to everyone and have everyone on the same page,” McMannon said.

Also in the works for MacFadyen is a pilot program involving ninth grade students. He’s hoping to help students create electronic portfolios they can use throughout their time at CVU. The idea is for students to collect their best work in all major subjects and keep it in one place.

“The hope is that this will be a good way to show off their work for college admissions or for prospective employers,” MacFadyen said. “Students really create so much of their work digitally already.”

Computer programming

The new computer programming class is a two-semester study of how to write computer codes. Booth said 21 students — all seniors — are enrolled.

“A lot of students have said to me, ‘I’ve been waiting for this class to come along for years,’” Booth said.

The class will learn the basics of Java script language — a widely known code program that can be used on several operating systems and online. But first, students will become familiar with an application called Alice, an introductory code-writing program that includes computer animation creation.

Booth hopes his students take their skills to the college level.

“This is an introductory-level course,” Booth said. “It’ll give them a taste of what it’s all about.”

Reichert said he’s taking the course as an extension of his math classes. Computer programming is mathematical and he hopes the class will further challenge his math skills.

“I do think that this class will help me in the future because technology is constantly developing, especially at this time, so it is important to have a background in programming and coding for the future,” Reichert said.