Tech Beat – Katrina Anniversary: Crisis Spurs Innovation at Jefferson Parish

MARRERO, La. — Hurricane Katrina created enormous hardships for many on the Gulf Coast, but it also created an opportunity for educators to step back during reconstruction and rethink their approach to teaching.

Officials at the Jefferson Parish Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the United States, used the crisis as a catalyst for change to introduce new learning tools into classrooms.

Four years after the hurricane, the district has made major strides in the amount of technology available to students and teachers. Of the 87 schools operated by the district, 47 have high-speed network infrastructure and wireless connections, more than half of the 3,000 classrooms have multi-media access and more than 1,000 are outfitted with screens and digital projectors.

Every teacher in the district is provided a laptop, and students often complete lessons with laptops, iPods, interactive white boards and other equipment.

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“We are at a transformative time for education in our country,” says Diane Roussel, the district’s superintendent, who led the push for technology in classrooms.

The plan in Jefferson Parish was introduced in partnership with Cisco Systems’ 21st Century Schools program and was partially funded through Title 1 funds.

Lesson plans utilize blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 technology that students use outside of classrooms during their free time. Roussel says many new Web-based learning tools are inexpensive or available for free.

“I think you need to look at things that you use everyday and question how they could be used for teaching,” she says. “Some of these things are very cost-effective.”

Roussel says some faculty members were hesitant to use the new technology but the new teaching methods picked up momentum after success among early adaptors led to greater student enthusiasm.

“I say we swim with it, because is don’t we are going to have a generation of kids that is clueless,” Roussel says.