Out of Utah’s 41 school districts, only two are Google Reference Districts, and Northern Utah is home to both of them.

Weber School District was named a reference district in February 2018, and Ogden School District just received the distinction Sept. 4.

Google Reference Districts are school districts that Google recognizes as leaders in the use of technology in teaching, including the use of Google’s Chromebook and G Suite for Education.

Similar to G Suite for businesses, G Suite for Education includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Drive, Docs and Google Classroom, a learning management system that allows students to organize and submit their work. It is free to nonprofit K-12 and higher education institutions.

At Thursday’s school board meeting, Ogden School District’s director of student achievement, Adam McMickell, emphasized the significance of this recognition.

“It’s worth note that you cannot apply for this distinction,” McMickell said. “Google (is) … consistently engaging with local communities to see where we’re having true impact — where programs are actually making a difference in the classroom, not just technology use — and then they invite you to become a reference district.”

In addition to receiving recognition for excellence in the use of educational technology, reference districts are listed in Google’s education directory. This allows them to host visits for other school districts that are looking to expand their use of Google technology.

Reference districts also commit to share their expertise in Google tools with their communities by hosting local events.

Ogden School District’s shift to Google tools is part of its increasing emphasis on collaboration. Using G Suite, students and teachers create digital files of their work, instantly share them and give each other feedback.

These collaboration tools have changed the way students experience school. Rather than passively sitting in a classroom while their teacher delivers instruction, students are actively working together to learn course material.

“The best part about it is teachers have shifted from that role as the expert and the fountain of knowledge to the facilitator,” said district digital learning specialist, Jeanie Elder, in a presentation to the school board.

With the guidance of district library specialist Amy Jamison, groups of fourth graders used Google Slides to create stories about a water droplet as it experiences the water cycle.

At Ogden High School, Sara Byrd and Ryan Edel’s advanced science students used Google Sites to create website portfolios of their projects. These student websites include a webpage for each learning objective and multimedia content related to that objective, including videos, drawings and practice exam questions.

At the end of the school year, these students used their websites to review for the International Baccalaureate exam, which carries college credit if students achieve passing scores.

They also have a portfolio of their work that they can take with them after high school.

Projects like these provide teachers with a broader way to assess student learning than relying solely on traditional assessments like essays and multiple-choice tests.

As a result, students aren’t the only ones whose day-to-day experience at school is changing. G Suite is changing the way that teachers experience teaching and professional development.

Ogden’s use of G Suite began in 2015, when the district transitioned from Microsoft to Google products. Before this transition, teachers used different tools to store and share documents, so collaboration was difficult.

Now that teachers all use one platform, it is common for a teacher to share a lesson plan with colleagues immediately after creating it, which provides more opportunities for teachers to receive feedback and improve their teaching practices.

Teachers also have access to more online and blended learning opportunities.

The district now offers teachers online professional development courses across several subjects, as well as two endorsement programs and three Google certification pathways.

Starting this school year, Ogden students have access to online courses through Utah Online School. In the long term, the district hopes to offer its own online school for junior high and high school students.

This widespread use of technology requires a significant investment in infrastructure. Every classroom now has internet access, and students have regular opportunities to use mobile devices, many of them Chromebooks.

In five years, the district will likely have a mobile device for every student.

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