About 1,000 Davis School District teachers gathered in three locations Wednesday to learn about chips and bits and bytes and WANs.
"The uniqueness of this gathering . . . is indicative of the power of technology," Gov. Mike Leavitt told the teachers gathered at Viewmont, Bountiful and Davis high schools. Leavitt spoke from the state capitol via Utah's Ed-Net microwave link system, which allows students at one location to learn from a teacher at another.Last year, for example, a teacher at Clearfield High taught Russian to students at three other high schools in the district, and Japanese is planned for this year.
But Ed-Net was only a small part of the technology conference Wednesday. Teachers attended workshops as diverse as how to take advantage of the Internet, using CD-ROM technology to teach music, laserdisc demonstrations, writing with computers, using technology for language and social studies and even tips on how to use the lowly calculator.
"What they're doing here is just extraordinary," said district spokeswoman Sandra Wilkins. "And these are not pie-in-the-sky presentations. These are things that are going on right now."
One language teacher in the district has become proficient at helping his students learn foreign languages by talking to people in foreign countries via the Internet.
Davis district is heavy into linking its schools for inter-school communications and Internet access. The state provides funding for linking secondary schools, but Superintendent Richard Kendell proudly told the teachers at the conference (he also spoke via Ed-Net) that Davis is one of only a few Utah districts to get elementary schools online as well.
Davis has a partnership with US WEST, which is providing additional funds for school technology projects.
"If we can bring our teachers and students into the Internet they can learn about current events and a wide variety of subjects without buying textbooks that are going to be immediately outdated anyway," said Assistant Superintendent Nancy Fleming.
Viewmont Principal Paul Waite said the technology conference is indicative of the quality of education students are getting, even though Utah is last in the nation in education spending per student.
"People here are getting a big bang for their buck," he said. "It's incredible what we have here."
One of the projects Davis has going with US WEST is the Shakespeare Project, which was developed and refined at View-mont High School last year under the tutelage of teacher Nona Horsley.
More than simply a software version of the bard's plays, the project, its proponents say, allows for substantial interaction that allows students to gain a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the intricacies of the Elizabethan-era dramas.
Kendell said all 69 schools in the district should be wired for Ed-Net and wide-area network capabilities within the next few years.
"I think the dream can become a reality," he said.
Of course, high-tech doodads can only go so far, as Leavitt noted upon arriving at the podium a few minutes past the appointed time. Some things, lamentably, depend wholly on humans.
"There are a lot of good things technology can do for us, but I guess it can't stop us from being late," he said.