Living in a Digital World: Technology transforms how students learn

2013-08-25T09:00:00Z 2013-08-27T12:59:04Z Living in a Digital World: Technology transforms how students learnCarrie Steinweg Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
August 25, 2013 9:00 am  • 

The American classroom of today looks drastically different than it did a generation ago. The parents of today remember classrooms with desks, textbooks and chalkboards and there was likely little communication between parents and teachers. Today’s kids are walking into a much different classroom.

Although it varies from school to school, bits of technology are seeping more into our schools and computers, in one form or another, are part of every day life in the classroom. Chalkboards are being replaced by devices that project the Internet with touch screen capability. Textbooks are used less frequently as information is pulled from websites. Fingers or stylus tools are used to write on tablets in place of paper and pen. Parents can send e-mails to teachers or look up grades with the click of a mouse. And changes to technology are happening faster than you can say Google.

At School District 158 in Lansing, the entire district has now gone to a one-to-one computing environment, according to school board member Bob Bonifazi, who also has a daughter attending school in the district and a son who just graduated out of the district. That means that each student in kindergarten through fifth grade has access to an individual tablet in the classroom and each student in grades 6 through 8 at the junior high has a notebook for their own use. The computer devices remain on school property at all times.

“Technology in the classroom on a full one-to-one scale is not fully widespread yet across the country,” said Bonifazi. “We’re one of the first and few districts in the south suburbs to commit to a one-to-one computing environment.”

Bonifazi said that the process of assigning one tablet or notebook per child began last school year. This year, a pilot program is in place to test the feasibility and need for a school to home system. Currently, three classes are participating in the pilot, where a computing device goes home with the child to be used for schoolwork. “The goal is for the district to understand how that process works and how you integrate that into the program and then to understand many different facets of it,” he said. “First, it is a huge investment, so how do you best integrate into this global learning environment and do so with allowing students to bring home devices while still protecting the investment? And now you’ve got an environment where kids may have devices already available, so it there an advantage or is it redundant?”

The pilot program should help answer those questions and gauge how effective it would be in homes where Internet access isn’t available.

He sees the progress made in the district and knows that while great strides are being made, technology changes faster than any educational institution can keep up. “Technology is ever changing,” he said. “Unless you’re going to spend a billion dollars every year, there’s no way to ‘keep up.’”

However, the district is in good shape, with SMART boards now in all classrooms and upgraded equipment in the learning resource centers.

Paula Dailey of Dyer is the mom of two boys who have gone to Protsman Elementary and she said she is impressed that computers have been part of their education from day one. “Computers are taught from kindergarten in the Lake County Schools,” she said. “Computers are considered a ‘special,’ like art, music, gym and library.”

She also sees benefits in the use of technology between parents and staff. “The teachers keep an online grade book, which is nice to keep track of children’s’ progress. There are tons of websites for extra help or even tutoring and they use Mobi in all classes, which is an interactive learning board.”

Mobi devices are also in use at Grimmer Middle School in Schererville. According to Principal John Alessia, they have replaced chalkboards as a way of displaying information to the class. “A teacher can write on the tablet and it goes up on the screen. Students can remain in their seat and do the work on the tablet,” he said.

A state recommended course is now in place at Grimmer, where Alessia said each 6th, 7th and 8th grade student has a semester class related to digital literacy. The covered material is age appropriate, beginning with keyboarding skills and later covering cyber bullying, Internet safety and proper usage of platforms and programs.

“The push from the state came about last year,” said Alessia. “A lot of it was taught in high school, but these kids are having exposure at a younger age. Some basic skills are taught at an early age and they are more highly developed when they walk into the doors of a middle school.”

Technology can also make it easier for teachers to convey a lesson and is being used in the classroom to enhance methods used by teachers. Bonifazi said that when studying a current event, teachers in the district have used Google maps to give students a better understanding of that area from a geographical context. Another example was a question and answer session with the author of a book the class was reading via Skype.

Bonifazi believes that the benefits of technological advances in classrooms are many. Besides giving students access to learning opportunities outside of the classroom and the possibility of increased test scores, he said that the technology in use helps to prepare students for the future. “From a life skills standpoint, you will have to be on some type of computer device for just about any job you have. It prepares students for the working environment.”

The biggest benefit Alessia sees in the integration of current technology is “knowledge.” “That’s why we’re here,” he said. “Students get a clear idea of how to communicate in a 21st century world.”

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