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“Putting the cart before the horse.” If you ask fifth grade teacher Shelley Emslie how Swan River School approached its digital learning journey, that’s the answer. Putting the cart before the horse: not doing things in the right or expected order. And she’ll repeat it several times, because that was the nature of the school’s journey towards better Wi-Fi.
Around 170 in grades K-8 students attend the Swan River School in Bigfork, Montana. In addition, there are about 20 faculty and administrative staff. Like many rural schools, Swan River School isn’t part of a larger school district. The school governs itself. There’s no IT person on staff and no budget for technology purchases. While the he school has a hardwired computer lab with Windows-based applications for teaching basic computer skills, there was initially limited demand for Wi-Fi until Emslie got involved in the school’s digital learning initiative.
In a rural school, people don’t hesitate to take on unofficial jobs to fill gaps. For Emslie, the job in need of a champion was digital learning. She will tell you, emphatically, that she is not a technical person. “I don’t want to take a computer apart or learn how to wire a network. My interest is in teaching tools, and clearly we were way behind in digital learning. That’s what I hoped to change.”