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What's Up Magazine

Technology in Education

Jan 09, 2013 06:35PM ● By Anonymous

If you watched a film, it was on a filmstrip that made a lot of noise, took forever to set up, and often skipped or got stuck. Those were considered the special days at school. However, in a world turning increasingly digital, area schools are working hard to keep up with the alterations. As money allows, they are making great strides.

Kids of all ages now use computers and mobile devices throughout the day for social purposes. A digital, tech-savvy world is what they were born into and all that they know. Dr. Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, and expert in the “psychology of technology”, says, “I have worked with schools all over the world in an effort to integrate technology effectively into the school curriculum. The key issue is engagement. We are dealing with younger generations of children and teenagers who live their lives immersed nearly 24/7 in technology and media at home and on the go. We can no longer ask them to trade in their rich multitasking environments for a unitasking classroom. This work is in its infancy but the implications are clear: Students enjoy technology and the tools are compelling enough to make school an engaging learning environment.” Technology is here to stay and academic institutions are jumping on board. “It’s time to bring the social conversation into the classroom and make it more intellectual,” says Julia Maxey, the upper school technology coordinator at a local private school.

In Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) and private school classrooms, interactive whiteboards, document cameras, digital cameras, interactive web links, video clips, audio tools, and other software applications are becoming more commonplace. With an interactive whiteboard, teachers connect projectors and computers to the board and then use a pointer, stylus, or their finger to work on the screen. They don’t have to return to the keyboard at the computer to enter text. Kids can go up to the board and manipulate the information themselves. “Children all have different learning styles,” says Marilyn Meyerson, the library and technology department head at another private school, which also uses the whiteboard system. “But kids learn well by doing. These whiteboards allow for visual, oral, and physical learning.

A young child can walk up to a pie graph and actually pull the fraction out of the circle. Older students can annotate a website on the screen.” In AACPS five years ago, there were about 119 interactive whiteboards. Now that number exceeds 2,500. While there is not currently a line item in the public school budget for the whiteboards, various grants and fundraising efforts have allowed the numbers to grow. “There is a lot more engagement in this kind of learning, rather than sitting and watching someone else do the work,” says Greg Barlow, chief information officer for AACPS.

The influx of iPads into schools has made a significant impact on learning. Seen in both public and private schools, iPads are creating more opportunities to learn. “In music, you can hook up instruments and play, and the iPad will not only record the music but transcribe it so that you can print sheet music of what you played,” says Maxey. “In our studies, we use a math app that teaches kids how to start their own businesses, from formulating the business plan to understanding costs and determining profit. We now have wireless probes for science experiments, where the data goes immediately into the iPad in your hand. It’s all incredible.”

The technology has allowed teachers to incorporate small group learning with more ease. In a math setting, that might mean a small group up at the interactive whiteboard, a group collaborating on a project with iPads, and a group at their desks with manipulative objects. The technology can also accommodate different levels of learning simultaneously. “Good apps have settings. Child A can be a wiz on counting one to 100. Child B might be just getting comfortable with one through 10. They are using the same program as far as they know, but I can change the setting so that each is learning on the correct level,” says Meyerson. Educators also appreciate how iPads are lightweight, mobile, and don’t interfere with discourse. They are easy to use for all ages.

The iPads have been useful tools for special education students, as well. There are apps available specifically to hearing and visually impaired students that can read information to a student with an impairment. AACPS uses Kurzweil software designed to help students with dyslexia, ADD, reading disabilities, or who are blind or visually impaired. One local private school, which serves students with dyslexia and other learning differences, uses Word Q software, which empowers the students to write while providing such things as spoken feedback so that they can write, edit, and proofread with ease. “The campus has full Wi-Fi, digital microscopes, and remote response systems to educate students in a modern way,” indicates Ian Walsh, technology coordinator for the school. Schools all seem to be using interactive learning through technology on some level. Teachers are trained on the best ways to use the technology and devices in the classroom. Students are educated on how to evaluate information they find online and synthesize that material. More than 2,000 software titles are supported as learning resources from AACPS for all grade levels. Private schools are finding excellent websites and apps for their curriculum. “The National Archives and Constitutional Center offer great apps,” says Meyerson. “We have students sitting at their desks with their own iPads looking at source documents that would otherwise be too hard to see on a screen. When studying the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the students got to see Lewis’ list of what to take on the expedition, in his own handwriting! That makes history come alive for them, and it excites them.”

A couple of other notable recent technological introductions include the Senteo handheld response device and the Edmodo learning network. The Senteo is passed out to all students in a classroom. When asked questions, they can click in responses and it gives a teacher instant feedback if students understand the material. The Edmodo network works like Facebook in the sense that a teacher sets up a site for the class and invites the students in for discussions and collaborations outside of the classroom. They can discuss homework and ask questions, leading to greater dialogue.

Parents might be concerned that too much emphasis on technology or mobile devices can lead to less interaction. Both public and private school educators seem to agree that the technology is only used when it will be meaningful and will enhance and improve the curriculum. When it’s not necessary, they simply don’t use it. But they also agree that the interaction among students has actually increased. Students now have more diverse presentation opportunities. They learn to write papers, but they also can build a website, create a video, set up a wiki, write a blog, or give a colorful oral presentation. Greg Barlow notes that the AACPS system is seeing a huge benefit. “The students pay attention more when they are not simply sitting through a lecture. They can’t wait to get their hands on the technology. So, they do a better job, learn the material better, and the test scores are going up. Seeing that level of learning is worth its weight in gold.”