Technology stimulates teacher imagination for dynamic student learning

11/27/2011  |  JULIE SMITH
Technology and Learning
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In three years, sales of tablet computers will grow tenfold — from 20 to 208 million, according to research by Gartner. Mobile computing is not just a technology trend — it is a paradigm shift in the way we communicate and collaborate. And, whether education embraces it or not, the shift will impact the classroom.

The more creative teachers can get with their lessons, the more dynamic the learning environment becomes for them and the students.

Throughout the country, innovative technology leaders are helping districts effectively incorporate these tools into the classroom. In a 2010 survey conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), half of E-rate consumers, which included public schools and libraries, said they plan to implement or expand the use of digital textbooks and other wireless devices.

In a 2011 CDW-G survey of 1,000 high school students, high school faculty and district IT professionals, 39 percent of IT professionals noted that their districts support digital content, up from 29 percent last year. That survey, the second annual 21st-Century Classroom Report (www.cdwg.com/21stCenturyClassroomReport), also suggests that districts are putting more emphasis on classroom technologies. IT professionals were 20 percent more likely to rate their technology as “cutting edge” or “current” in 2011 as compared to 2010. Faculty were more inclined to identify newer technologies, including digital content, virtual learning and multimedia content streaming, as essential to the 21st-century classroom.

While the results of the CDW-G survey were encouraging, the responses to some open ended questions revealed some challenges. When asked why teachers might not use technology, “fear of technology” was a common theme within faculty, IT professional and student responses.

It is natural to be apprehensive of new technologies and, oftentimes, these new tools appear to be more work to learn than it’s worth. However, with the proper steps, professional development for teachers and students, and a supportive administrative environment, schools can successfully implement digital content and collaborative technologies.

Thomasville City Schools

At Thomasville City Schools in Thomasville, Ga., district leaders recognize the digital future. In the last two years, the district implemented a one-to-one e-textbook program for more than 700 students in the district’s high school. But at Thomasville, the digital content program is more than PDF textbooks. The school emphasizes engaging, interactive lessons, and is providing critical professional development for faculty to support the school’s digital move.

Thomasville understood that moving to a digital environment could be difficult and that it needed a solid plan to ensure a smooth transition. Before going to the students, the district took time to train teachers on the new technology, enabling them to become comfortable with the device. The faculty also receives ongoing training specific to the classes they teach, e.g., math, science, English.

With the faculty on the road to proficiency, Thomasville provided an orientation program for the school’s parents and students, including reviewing the district’s acceptable use policy, which outlines how students should use the devices.

Beyond getting to know the device, the district also works with each group to ensure that students understand how to be good digital citizens. It is this understanding that is at the foundation of Thomasville’s mobile computing and digital content program, and is critical to its success.

Teachers’ Imaginations Flow

Technology not only stimulates students’ imaginations, but teachers’ imaginations, too. The more creative teachers can get with their lessons, the more dynamic the learning environment becomes for them and the students.

Thomasville found that teachers fully embraced the technology. Math and science teachers began producing podcasts that reinforce lessons and that students can listen to on their own; Advanced Placement teachers allow students to video record labs to use for studying and exam preparation; and teachers across subject areas pre-record lectures for substitute teachers, eliminating any classroom downtime.

Thomasville demonstrates that teachers can quickly adjust to and embrace digital content.

Out-of-School Connectivity

One challenge that we often hear about digital content and mobile device programs is that not every student will have access to the Internet outside of school. Thomasville recognized that out-of-school connectivity would be a challenge for students in the district, two-thirds of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches.

However, instead of writing off a digital content program, Thomasville used the information to better design its program. Instead of choosing textbooks that require Internet access, the district relies on PDF textbooks, which are pre-loaded on the device and do not need Internet access.

Additionally, the district worked with the city of Thomasville to install wireless access points in the center of the city as well as other community gathering areas. These wireless access points enable students using the district’s notebooks to connect to the Internet, free of charge.

Recommendations

Though Thomasville is just a year into its adoption of digital content, the school experienced increased engagement across all levels of the community — from students and parents to faculty members. To model Thomasville’s success, we have put together a few recommendations:

  • Talk with peers. School districts across town or across the state can provide critical support and share their successes and challenges to help your district implement innovative technology programs.
  • Secure the device. When giving devices to teachers and students, schools need to think beyond cybersecurity. Districts should always invest in etching, imaging. and other measures that will clearly mark the devices as district property and deter theft.
  • Look for grants. When funding is a challenge — and let’s be honest, when isn’t funding a challenge? – securing grants can help augment district budgets. But, in addition to the budgetary help, grant applications often lead to increased district planning and research to support technology initiatives.
  • Partner with experts. The importance of a good partner cannot be overstated. Districts need to find vendors that they trust and who understands their goals and the market. Also, good technology partners can connect districts with other district leaders so they can collaborate together.

In the end, Thomasville may be successful because district leaders know that that the program is not perfect. District leaders note that they are constantly re-evaluating the program and making adjustments as students and faculty change.

Julie Smith is vice president for K-12 education with CDW-G.
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