By Eva Bergmann, USAG Schweinfurt Public AffairsSeptember 12, 2011
SCHWEINFURT, Germany -- Students, parents and teachers caught a glimpse of the future when Marilee Fitzgerald, acting director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, visited schools here Sept. 2.
Fitzgerald toured both the elementary/middle school and the all new high school, where she promoted quality education supported by modern technology and encouraged students to take an active interest -- beyond the scope of their textbooks -- in science, society and politics.
One key aspect of her visit was to personally witness the new blended learning program DoDEA has developed to link Schweinfurt and Bamberg, which until last year was the joint facility for all students from both garrisons. The two high schools are the first DoDEA facilities worldwide to implement this high-tech innovation.
"Blended learning is a system that allows for simultaneous instruction at two different locations," said DODEA spokesman Bob Purtiman. "So a teacher in Bamberg, for example, can be providing instructions to students, and with cameras rolling, students in Schweinfurt can also be attending the class."
Beginning this school year, blended learning classes will take place regularly and courses will be transmitted in both directions between the Bamberg and Schweinfurt Army garrisons.
"For some classes you only have, let's say, four students here in Schweinfurt and so the class would not take place," Purtiman explained. "But together with the other six [students] in Bamberg we can form a class and offer more different subjects."
Fitzgerald was delighted to see the seniors embrace the new technology and classes flowing smoothly. Encouraging students to think outside the box, she pointed out various benefits of the program like the improved continuity and an increase in educational opportunities.
"Everybody learns the same thing on the same page on the same day," Fitzgerald said. "As you move from school system to school system it gets less disrupted, because you can access each course from everywhere."
But for Fitzgerald the accomplishments are only just the first steps towards future DoDEA education. Her visions include even more advanced technology, panoramic screens, especially designed classrooms, automated camera movements and iPads for students, allowing easy access to the most current resources.
"Let's say [students] are learning history and they are learning from a textbook that has Gaddafi as the leader of Libya," Fitzgerald said. "How about we give them a digital book on an app that says: 'Download; We've got new information'? In a few seconds it's uploaded and we have: 'Libya: we don't know yet, we're on the hunt for Gaddafi,' but it's real time, real information."
Having held various high ranking positions within the Department of Defense, several of which within DoDEA, Fitzgerald maintains a down-to-earth attitude. Whether questions about the lunch menu or parents' concerns about students having internet access during school hours, she listened and met her audience at eye level and strongly emphasized the need for practical solutions to modern world challenges.
"The reason we need to do this, must do this, is to make their education relevant," Fitzgerald explained. "We need to really understand the power of accessing this information from multiple sources and one source in the class room today is far too limited. This is the world in which they are going to be living and they have to learn to be proficient in it."