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Spotlight on: Steve Jensen, District Technology & Communications

Stephen A. Jensen holds a Bachelor of Science in Technical Education from the State University of New York at Oswego. He earned his Master of Science in Program Development and Evaluation from the State University of New York at Albany.

Steve joined Rhinebeck Central School District as Technology Director in 2013. Before that, Steve was the Executive Director for Technology, Libraries and Central Registration for the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, where he developed a district technology plan to support the curriculum and long–range staff development. He has also worked leading technology efforts for Troy City Schools in various roles: as Director of Central Registration and Attendance and as Coordinator for Educational Technology Planning and Development and Libraries.
 

RSF-Steve-Jensen

How did you get interested in technology?
I originally aspired to be a cabinetmaker. During my college years studying technology, we were required to experience all aspects – metalworking, woodworking, automotive, digital electronics, graphic design, and other disciplines. Things changed when I had an inspirational graphics design professor, David Faux, who saw a paradigm shift in the desktop publishing industry. He empowered us to learn through guided self-discovery and became a student alongside his own students. I completely immersed myself in the program researching, discovering, experimenting with new technologies and networking with former students who were had graduated and were employed in this field. That’s how I came to technology instruction.

Once I became a teacher, I had the opportunity to begin the first computerized course in my high school. The graphic design course was a success, and that led to designing another course in video production. Eventually, I had the opportunity to research districts that were on the cutting edge of technology by conducting interviews and observations.

What is the one big change that gets you excited about technology?
I don’t find myself latching onto the every new technology that appears on the scene. At one point, quite a while ago, “still video” – video that utilized analog technology to record images that could then be digitized – was touted as the next big thing. Only after acquiring some expensive still video equipment, did it become clear that digital photography was going to be much more important and accessible.

From this experience, I learned to be very cautious when investing money in technology. You need to allow new technologies to mature and establish themselves before committing limited time and resources. I have also learned that the technology will always change, but how we utilize technology changes at a much slower rate. Students need to learn how to discern which technologies are worth the attention and effort and which are not.

How do you continue learning?
I tend to gravitate to professional organizations or research-based organizations to look at how the K-12 environment can poise itself to respond to changes in technology. This includes websites for COSN, ISTE, Project Red, TED Talks and a few podcasts, too.

What do you do when you aren’t working to get new technology going at the schools?
I revert back to my technology teacher days. I restore antiques, rehab old houses and currently I am trying my hand at a car restoration of a 1962 Ford Falcon. I also have a young son who is eager to help his papa. It slows things down, but that is probably a good thing.  

Tell us about the latest project you have been working on.
The major impetus right now is to create a reliable infrastructure for the initiatives currently underway at CLS. The CELT report indicated that the faculty confidence in the current technology was very low – to the point that teachers would avoid technology rather than deal with the difficulties. To remove those barriers is a long process. The network system was established, modified and redesigned multiple times over the past 15 years, and in the interest of saving money compromises were made.

To restructure a 15 year old system while trying to maintain current services has been difficult and will take time to resolve.

More importantly, is the implementation of tablets and computers at the K-5 level. We simply do not want to replace old technology with new technology. We are focusing instead on getting the maximum benefit for students.

What has surprised you the most about it?
I have always worked in independent environments that were self-sustaining. A smaller district like Rhinebeck has a high degree of dependency on outside vendors and organizations. The inextricable link of the district to BOCES can be good, but coordination is a challenge.
Another surprise is the willingness of the staff to embrace technology. Most of the Rhinebeck teachers embrace the concept of using technology, despite the increasing regulatory demands from the State Education Department. They recognize the benefit and want to integrate technology into the classroom.

What is your big goal for this coming year?
I have five big goals:
1. Improve communication within the district and with the community.
2. Increase technological integration within the classroom.
3. Remove technological barriers and improve infrastructure.
4. Work with staff on professional development.
5. And put together a long-term financial sustainability plan.
 
What do you wish people knew about you?
I hope that people will understand that I view technology as support to the educational process. It is a means to an end. Students and staff alike need to view technology as a tool that is essentially transparent to the learning process. The technology we instruct students on today will be obsolete in 5 years, but how they learn with it will last a lifetime.

While I view the technology department as a customer service entity, I also use that entity to help staff become self-directed learners. There is not enough time or money in public education to provide enough professional development in the traditional formats. Teachers need to acquire information that directly impacts their instruction. We can’t demand that students be life-long learners and not meet that expectation for ourselves.

What can people in the community do?
I gave a talk to CLS staff last year about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Digital Natives are those born after 1994 who grew up with digital technology. Digital Immigrants are those born prior to 1994 and may not have had technology as a major influence. Studies show big differences in how each group sees technology in the classroom. Not only are the students Digital Natives, but so are many of the parents. These parents now have different expectations regarding technology and its integration in the classroom. What was once considered an option for the classroom is now expected. So, I would like to see the community get involved in advocating for technology in the classroom. A clear vision gives the community a single voice to speak for the changes they would like to see in our schools.