Coal City school ‘geek’ inspires use of technology to enhance learning
BY JEANNE MILSAP For Sun-Times Media
Coal City’s technical director Jason Smith walks through the class of students, getting feedback as they use their android tablets. | CAROL DORSETT ~ FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Where some see technology as a necessary evil, secretly wishing it would all just go away, Coal City School District’s Jason Smith delights in it.
He sees technology as not only a fun diversion, but mostly as a thrilling way to help others achieve an infinite array of goals and desires throughout their lifetimes.
“Technology is a game-changer,” he said. “As a tool, it’s more than just a hard drive and memory. It’s an unlimited tool that individuals can use to help them achieve whatever goals they have in life.”
Smith has been the district’s Director of Business Services and Technology since 1993, organizing bus services, payroll, budgeting, human resources, insurance and technology of the district of 2,100 students. He has worked with principals and superintendents all over the state, including many in the Joliet area.
He believes strongly in teachers and students using various means of technology to enhance learning and to take with them the means of tackling problems technologically long after graduation.
“Jason’s value to our district is that he not only has a tremendous grasp on technology issues,” said Coal City Superintendent Dr. Kent Bugg. “But he is also a master teacher. Therefore, he not only can help our teachers learn how to use technology, but more importantly, he can assist them in integrating that technology into their instruction.”
Bugg said Smith has been an inspiration to his district.
“He is always challenging us to try something new,” Bugg added. “His attitude is to never become stagnant and to keep moving forward.”
Recently, Smith has also been working with the Illinois Association of School Administrators, giving them “nuts and bolts skills” of technology, and even more importantly, giving them ideas for ways they can use that information.
Smith started out as a physics and math teacher at Coal City. But even before that, he was a geek at heart.
“I’ve been a nerd forever,” he said. “The first computer I had was a Commodore VIC-20. In middle school, the librarian taught us how to program in Basic. It’s always been fascinating to me. It’s the potential it gives the user.”
Smith said that at first, technology instructors just taught how to click, when to double-click, and more of the mechanical aspects of computers. Today, it’s all about how to meet the needs of the user.
You don’t have to know everything about an iPad or other technology, you just have to know their potential and how to access information you may need, he said.
Smith said he tries to encourage those with whom he comes in contact. He has received so much support and encouragement during his career from his superintendent and many others for continued learning and for taking on more responsibility, and that’s what it’s all about, how to succeed, he said.
“So much of a person being successful is other people encouraging him,” Smith said.
That’s useful in technology, too, he said. His job is to teach and encourage.
“I want them not to be afraid, and to continue to improve themselves. I want them to be better, and I make sure they know I am here to help them get over that hump whenever they get stuck,” he said.
A big goal with students, after teaching them how to use their technology to meet needs, is to give them “solid search skills.” Many students still lack the ability to discern a good information source from a bad one. They think a blog is just as accurate as an online newspaper.
“It all looks the same to them,” he said.
He also wants to make sure they know how much things they post on the web could affect them later in life.
“You have a digital persona that follows you everywhere,” he said.