WBU alum, former employee getting attention for technology

SAN MARCOS – The work of one Wayland alumnus is garnering nationwide attention for innovative use of some of the newest technology.

As coordinator of instructional technology at the San Marcos Consolidated School District, Ronda Stonecipher (BS’86, MEd’99) has recently added fielding calls from media outlets to her busy job description. A program implemented a year ago is still getting media attention, perhaps because it encourages students to use gadgets that before were considered only for entertainment.

Stonecipher, who has worked in the district with 7,500 students for 18 months, was fairly new on the job when she saw the release of the new video iPod, the portable digital media player by Apple, out at Christmas 2005. Seeing potential for educational uses, she suggested the district purchase the video iPods for use with new immigrant students learning English as their second language.

“Everybody thinks it’s just a music player,” Stonecipher said. “But when I saw the video iPod, I saw a way to put the digital curriculum on them so kids had access 24 hours a day.”

Stonecipher admits the district thought she’d fallen off her rocker. But when she explained the incredible potential for integrating learning with the already popular digital gadgets, folks got on board. They purchased the first set of iPods in February 2006 and were only the third school district in the nation to use the technology in classrooms.

“Everybody thought I was crazy at first, but once we showed them the Podcasts we could put on there and other materials, they changed their tune very quickly,” she laughed. “I partnered first with the bilingual coordinator to work with her kids, and she was really excited with what it could do for them.”

Stonecipher and the bilingual coordinator developed resources including streaming video lessons, video flash cards to learn vocabulary words, Power Point presentations and lessons using an attached microphone, where students could record themselves reading passages in English, then play it back and critique themselves. They also got help from other students to create audio versions of books so students could read along with native English speakers and learn the language.

The district was pleasantly surprised with the results. Even Stonecipher, who knew the vast potential, has been amazed to see the transformation.

“We knew it would help accelerate their learning but we didn’t know how quickly. We saw instant results overnight,” she said. “Their grades improved within a week, and when we compared their spring to the past fall, our bilingual students increased by a letter grade increment in almost every subject.

“The program helps these kids master the language and the curriculum at once. They’re really motivated to use it and learn,” she added. “We’ve also noticed those students don’t have as much as an accent. They can watch videos of native English speakers and are mimicking what they’re hearing.”

The district was so pleased with the progress of bilingual students they allowed Stonecipher to explore more uses of the video iPods. She said San Marcos schools currently use them with special education students, deaf students and elementary music classes.

When the district opened its newest elementary school this past fall, the building was totally wireless and the technology was immediately employed, with help from Stonecipher.

“All of the third- and fourth-grade students have the Palm TXs, a new model of the Palm Pilot with a wireless Internet connection,” she explains. “We put streaming videos on there that correlate with lessons, and we can load lecture notes and presentations and music on there as well. We’ve found that successful, since linking music with learning really helps the brain recall facts.”

Stonecipher said the Palms have a mini version of Microsoft Office on them, including Word, Excel and Power Point, and come with a wireless keyboard. Students can complete their homework on the Palm, email it to the teacher and it can be emailed back after being graded… all without the use of paper. They’ve also loaded e-books, with digitized pages that can be scrolled through and read and are more easily portable than their traditional, bound library counterparts.

“One thing the teachers really like is the calendar and task list, and they use that to put homework assignments out and send notes home to parents,” she added. “The note can be signed with a digital stylus and then sent back to the teacher.”

The results have been positive in both academic and other arenas.

“We’ve seen better attendance rates, increased grades and test performance. Students are actively learning,” Stonecipher said. “We have fewer discipline problems as well. They are more actively engaged and are not thinking about acting up. They want to learn and do the activities on the electronic devices.

“Basically what we’re doing is meeting them on their own terms. They grew up in a digital world, so we’re training them using those methods.”

Stonecipher and her husband, Dale “Stoney,” who is a coach and teacher at Lockhart, have two children. Kelsey, 16, is a sophomore at Gonzales High School where the family still lives. Ty, 13, attends Goodnight Junior High in San Marcos. After earning her education at Wayland, Ronda worked in the Information Technology department at WBU and taught computer courses at the Lubbock campus and online before the family moved south.