Teaching and Technology
How the Digital Age Is Changing Education
by Daniel Beauregard
Rapid technological advancements are changing the way that peopleinteract, communicate and access information. And more and more, educators are incorporating those advancements into the classroom. By using an array of accessible computer devices and programs, they create interactive learning environments, while also offering students a greater understanding of the technology they use every day.
21st Century Classrooms
As textbooks and chalkboards give way to laptops and interactive whiteboards, the traditional classroom model is getting a 21st-century update. Technology is no longer reserved for the computer lab. Instead, students interact with technological devices on a regular basis throughout the school day.
“Textbooks are becoming a thing of the past. Everything is becoming digital,” says Steve Wells, technology instructor at McGinnis Woods Country Day School in Alpharetta.
At Notre Dame Academy in Duluth, traditional computer labs have been replaced with an extensive collection of Apple products including MacBooks, iPads and iPod touches, which are placed on carts to make them easier for students to access, says Ken Lemons, director of technology and education technology coordinator. In addition, there are enough iPads for every middle school student. The students use the computers in place of textbooks, and return them at the end of the year. While the devices are more expensive than books, they don’t receive as much wear and tear, Lemons says, making them more cost-effective.
At Victory World Christian School in Norcross, every student from kindergarten through fifth grade is equipped with a Neo 2 laptop, which stays on-site at the end of the day, says Irene Prue, the school’s principal. Each classroom is also equipped with an iPad and an interactive whiteboard.
McGinnis Woods currently has 125 laptops, about one for every two students in kindergarten through fifth grade, on four laptop carts in different areas of the school. Middle-school students are assigned their own laptops. The school is also outfitted with 30 Microsoft Surface tablets, and boasts a math lab with 17 desktop computers.
At Trinity Chapel Academy in Powder Springs, all middle-school students are issued a MacBook, and at Wesleyan School in Norcross, every student in grades 5 through 12 is provided a tablet computer. Every third- through fifth-grade student at Greater Atlanta Christian School is provided with an iPad.
The amount of computers and other devices such as smart boards differs from school to school. That’s especially true of public school systems. Every school in the DeKalb County Schools system is different, says Chief Information Officer Gary Brantley, “because every school has different needs.”
Thanks to a special-purpose sales tax passed in 2011, the school system plans to update equipment throughout the district, provide interactive whiteboards to every classroom and provide students access to tablets and laptops, among other projects. The entire system is projected to have wireless connectivity by the end of 2013.
Changes in Teaching and Learning
Utilizing technology as an educational tool has had a profound impact on the ways both teachers and students function within the classroom.
Technology is a part of students’ daily lives outside of the classroom, so utilizing it as a teaching aid is a logical step. “They grow up with digital technology,” Lemons says. “They see this stuff at home and everywhere. The traditional stand-and-deliver style of teaching, where the teacher is writing things on the board and reciting the things the students need to learn, just doesn’t work as well as it once did.”
At Victory World Christian School, the Neo 2 laptops allow teachers to tailor lessons to each student’s needs—for example, creating individual math worksheets for each child. “The responses are automatically scored so the teacher can see what areas each child needs help with,” says Prue. “It gives child and teacher immediate feedback so you can give a kind of individualized instruction.”
At McGinnis Woods, each classroom is fitted with a Promethean interactive whiteboard and projector. The boards enable students to participate in hands-on activities, dropping and dragging animated items and using a pen to highlight different words.
More than just a tool for teachers, contemporary technology is changing the way students learn and interact with their instructors. After completing a project, McGinnis Woods students create a presentation to show their classmates how to do the things they’ve just done. In that way, the students become teachers themselves.
“To me, the best idea is to get that pen out of the teacher’s hands and into the students’ hands,” says Wells. “Another big component of that is that it becomes a group thing. They’re able to collaborate, and that’s huge for the kids to learn early on.”
Teachers, of course, aren’t the only ones excited about the educational advances offered by technology. Wells, with McGinnis Woods, says there’s “a quantum leap in students’ engagement and how much more they absorb the content.”
Wells believes that using technology in the classroom is more than a means of encouraging students to get excited about learning; it’s an obligation.
“They seem to learn more in a shorter period of time and seem to retain more,” he says. “The studies out there show that the test scores go up when they [participate in] this style of learning. So we, as responsible teachers, can’t ignore that. Because of these tools, we have more engaged learners.”
But all of these technological improvements are no substitute for the human touch. So don’t expect to see computers running a classroom any time soon, says Prue of Victory World Christian School.
“We firmly believe that technology will never replace the teacher because kids, particularly at the elementary level, they need that [face-to-face] contact,” she says. “But it sure does enhance instruction.”
TODAY’S TEACHING TOOLS
Smart boards: Interactive white boards that act as large touch screens are replacing chalkboards. Students can use them to participate in hands-on activities, dropping and dragging animated items and using a pen to highlight different words.
Laptops and tablet computers: Textbooks are being replaced by compact computers and tablet devices such as the iPad. Devices such as the Neo 2 laptop developed by Renaissance Learning allow teachers to test students’ reading comprehension and create individualized instruction.
Software and applications: Students at McGinnis Woods use Prezi software and Microsoft PowerPoint to give presentations. Notre Dame Academy students report on what they’ve learned via movies or podcasts. Students at Victory World Christian School use Rosetta Stone software to learn Spanish.
Additional reporting by Lindsay Oberst