The Harbinger Online

Teaching With Tech

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Creating videos via iMovie for a history project. Studying atomic arrangement from a magnified model printed by a 3D printer. Having access to information from around the world in a split second.

These types of innovations in the classroom have let schools nationwide to drift away from the traditional classroom setting. Digital Promise Communication Director Jason Tomassini describes that as “a teacher at the front of the room delivering information to a bunch of students.” Now that technology is being added into the picture, he thinks education is changing significantly — and for the better.

“Whether or not the lessons that [students are] learning are fundamentally different or hugely radical because of technology, at the very least, kids are more interested in the work because they’re able to do it in a format that’s really comfortable for them.” Tomassini said.

Another advantage that Tomassini sees in this educational technology movement is catering to each individual student. Rather than having a teacher create a lesson in hopes of reaching as many students as they can, now they can individualize each student’s learning to their own needs.

“The next big benefit would be that [learning is] much more personalized,” Tomassini said. “Students have a chance to work on their own and work in programs that can cater the lesson to what their needs and their interests are.”

Having tools like laptops and iPads, or even smart phones, allow students to have access to programs for specific subjects that interest them, such as apps and websites.

Tomassini and superintendent Dr. Jim Hinson agree that technology also has the potential to create more flexibility for students’ schedules. On the extreme side, Tomassini sees the potential for cutting down hours that students spend in the actual classroom due to the growing popularity of self-paced education.

Lindsey Tepe of the New American Foundation — a non-profit organization that works on global issues like the environment, technology, education, etc. — thinks that innovating technology into the classroom opens up opportunities for all different types of learners. For example, now that college professors are able to record lectures and put them online, so that visual learners have a chance to review those lectures and observe their professor more closely. The use of 3D printing would appeal to kinesthetic learners, or students that learn the most when they are able to do hands-on activities.

“I think what we know for certain is that different ways of learning make sense to different people,” Tepe said. “I think what we’re seeing is these new technologies enabling all people, all different types of learners, to absorb information and content in different ways that are maybe more impactful for some than others.”

According to Tomassini, it’s possible that teachers are going to be somewhat overwhelmed at first as they initially make the transition and learn to use the equipment. However, he and Hinson agree that this technology has the potential to make teachers’ lives easier.

“I think [teachers] probably will [ease into this] far better than we anticipate,” Hinson said. “There will always be some level of nervousness because people are at different levels of experience. But those that aren’t comfortable with technology have just said ‘OK, teach me. What do I need to know? Help me do this.’”

English and history teacher Robert Bickers sees only benefits with this futuristic educational system. For years he has wanted to teach certain lessons that require technological tools, but hasn’t had the means to do so from a technology standpoint.

“To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement,” Bickers said. “I love the idea of every student constantly having access to information and knowledge. Outside of testing, that’s never a bad thing.”

Being able to communicate this knowledge is something Hinson considers vital to the success of SMSD students. Using tools like Google Drive and Apple TV in addition to having constant access to email, Hinson says, will make all of this communication possible.

“I think the thing for us is the access to the the knowledge and the information around the world,” Hinson said. “Technology enables people to share their learning experiences, ideas and creativity with other people, and they can do that instantaneously…So communication is greatly enhanced, access to that knowledge is greatly enhanced, but the ability of other people to learn from you around the world, that exists in technology.”

While Tomassini clearly sees what he thinks are benefits of integrating technology into the classroom, he still sees the risks that come along with it. He worries that, if not implemented correctly, technology could be used as a crutch rather than a tool in the classroom.

“I think we’re only losing something if people cease to think outside the box in how this can actually transform learning, as opposed to just focusing on doing what we’ve been doing for so long…so I think it’s still something where teachers need to be put in the best position to use [technology] in the best ways possible. And if not, then we’ll still have a bunch of the same issues we had before.”

Chemistry teacher Steven Appier worries mostly about how the new technology being brought into the district will work with the applications the Chemistry department already has. Another worry of his is the challenge of working out calculations on a computer rather than with paper and pencil. His biggest concern, however, is what he considers the less-valuable experience that comes from simulated labs rather than ones done in actuality.

“In some ways, technology can be very good,” Appier said. “I’m just not sure it’ll be the benefit everyone thinks.”

“The next big benefit would be that [learning is] much more personalized,” Tomassini said. “Students have a chance to work on their own and work in programs that can cater the lesson to what their needs and their interests are.”

Bickers considers himself “blissfully ignorant” of any significant issues that could come from integrating technology into the classroom. However, the potential for distraction is a less significant issue he sees as a possibility. At the same time, Bickers believes in letting students mature, which he believes wouldn’t happen if teachers held their students’ hands and had tight restrictive rules for their devices.

“My hope is that we will see [technology] as an expansion tool, but not seen as a panacea, not seen as the solution,” Bickers said. “Just handing someone technology doesn’t fix anything…So my hope is that its use explodes as a tool; my fear is that its use explodes as a crutch…that should never be the case. Teaching is still teaching — it just changes the nature of it a little bit.”

“The next big benefit would be that [learning is] much more personalized,” Tomassini said. “Students have a chance to work on their own and work in programs that can cater the lesson to what their needs and their interests are.”

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Senior Katie Knight is Co-Editor for print. This is her fourth year on staff. She enjoys bossing people around--particularly Co-Editor Andrew McKittrick. She is also a member of the Broadcasting Dream Team. Read Full »

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