In graduate school, Traci Bonde thought she was headed for a career in special education. In the late 1990s, however, her experience in module building, corporate training, and program and curriculum design led her to becoming the assistant director of Expression College, which was her first exposure to managing technology in an educational environment.
It was also the start of a ten-year career working in technology in the private sector. But after she became a mother, Bonde decided that if she was going to spend 8–10 hours a day, five days a week, away from her son, she would rather devote herself to supporting students’ and teachers’ educational goals than to stakeholders’ and stockholders’ bottom lines.
Now, she is the chief technology officer of California’s Dublin Unified School District. Although there were many changes in education while she was in the corporate world, Bonde believes the combination of her education background and business experience makes her better at her job.
“Matching the right tools and technical capabilities to learning styles and abilities is crucial, whether you’re training adults in the corporate world or young students,” Bonde says. “The most effective outcomes are tied to usability and accurately assessing the value of those outcomes.”
To do that, her department and teachers have to understand both the learning objectives and the technologies supporting them. For example, twenty years ago students might have demonstrated what they learned about the Pyramids by writing a paper or building a clay model. Today’s students can produce stop-motion clay animation or create a “pyramid society” in Minecraft, a virtual environment-building software.
“The venues now available to students to demonstrate learning are limitless,” Bonde says. “Teachers have to be clear about the functionality of the technologies to fully understand how students are demonstrating what they have learned.”
“Making” A Twenty-First Century
In the midst of the Bay Area’s “maker movement,” Traci Bonde incorporates innovative tools to facilitate learning. This includes training teachers to use creator kits like littleBits and MaKey MaKey, which enable students to make everything from flashlights to Wi-Fi remote monitors to Play-Doh game controllers to piano keys made out of bananas.
Bonde and her department work toward that goal by doing more than just performing technical tasks like fixing computers and testing portal connectivity speeds. They spend time coteaching to gain firsthand classroom experience and to demonstrate to teachers and students how to get the most out of innovative technologies. That includes training them in coding, robotics, 3-D printing, and peripheral tools like littleBits (a library of modular electronics that snap together easily with magnets) and MaKey MaKey (an invention kit that allows users to control their computer through objects like bananas and Play-Doh by alligator-clipping them to a MaKey MaKey board). The results have been both impressive and entertaining. In one instance, kindergarten classes that had been studying the weather also learned how to use green screen technology to create their own weather report videos.
In addition to her technical expertise, a great deal of Bonde’s insight comes from the volunteer work she does at her son’s school in Dublin. In an informal capacity as a parent, she can see how learning and technology are working together in a relaxed atmosphere in which teachers aren’t worried about the district CTO being on-site to observe.
Her experiences helped debunk assumptions that had been made about local students in a geographic region where many parents are themselves technology professionals. “We thought most of our students had the tools and skills they need to be extraordinarily tech savvy, but volunteering showed me otherwise,” Bonde says. “We offer training in basics like keyboarding, proper research techniques, and the meaning of plagiarism and copyrights.”
As the district’s CTO, Bonde is excited about the new three-story engineering and science academy building Dublin Unified is in the process of building at its main high school. With the ability to accommodate as many as six hundred students, it will provide numerous enhancements to digital and traditional instruction, such as a fully supported mobile/wireless environment, flexible seating and classroom configurations, collaborative breakout rooms, dedicated “maker” areas for tinkering and exploring, mobile charging stations, and programs in 3-D AutoCAD, robotics, coding, app design, and cybersecurity. It will also include 1,600 square feet of science and 2-D multi-media labs, 1,800 square feet of 3-D art and engineering labs, and a 2,400-square-foot digital graphics and web design space.
“No amount of money could entice me to leave working in public schools. . . . I’m totally dedicated to contributing to the success of others by providing access to education and technology they might not have otherwise.”
“The robust tools and capabilities of the new building will help our students be far better prepared to pursue engineering, biomedical, and other types of core science programs at elite colleges,” Bonde says. “They’ll also be better equipped to navigate workplace expectations than students who graduate from traditional high schools.”
She also believes that Dublin’s support of education and technology helps create a sense of belonging for many students who don’t fall into conventional categories, like athletics or traditional academics. Her own son feels more connected to his middle school because of the online access it provides before and after school and during lunch. “He’s an engineer, not an athlete,” Bonde explains.
In addition to making her an insightful leader, her experiences, expertise, roots in special education, and multiple roles as CTO, parent, and volunteer all give her a very personal connection to her work.
“No amount of money could entice me to leave working in public schools,” Bonde says.
“Although Dublin is an affluent district, I worked in underserved areas before and grew up in poverty myself. I’m totally dedicated to contributing to the success of others by providing access to education and technology they might not otherwise have. That’s my real work, so, ultimately, I fully intend on retiring as a public service employee.”