What are best practices for integrating new technology into our programs and professional practice?
It’s difficult to find a pencil sharpener in today’s classrooms, let alone pencils. But paper is disappearing as well. In Roosevelt High School, where students in freshman, sophomore, and junior classes are all issued iPads for classroom instruction, many classrooms have become paperless. Get ready for another paradigm shift in education.
Digital technology is firmly entrenched in today’s preK-12 classrooms. Computers, laptops, and mobile devices are ubiquitous, and alternately assisting and distracting from learning. Textbook publishers are moving from print to online curriculum to stay ahead of the game. How can teachers identify best practices to use mobile technology in the classroom? In what ways are these new tools helping or hindering learning for children who were born two generations after the inception of Microsoft and Apple? Can teachers, who are often “digital immigrants,” learn how to teach children who are “digital natives?” With the onslaught of technical devices in today’s classrooms, finding ways to effectively use technology in instruction will be critical.
In spring 2013, Dean Randy Hitz saw an opportunity for important research on the use of new technology and launched a pilot project to look at effective iPad usage in the classroom. Over 420 iPad minis and 80 iPads were distributed to GSE students and faculty to discover ways to enhance teaching and learning with the latest innovations in digital technology. GSE students in Educational Administration, Special Education and in Curriculum and Instruction initial licensure programs will be using these devices in the field during the coming year.
Dr. Gayle Thieman is involved in a three-year study at Roosevelt High School in Portland Public Schools that is looking at the impact of individually assigned iPads on student learning, attendance, and behavior. All freshmen, sophomores and juniors have access to iPads that they use at school or check out and take home. The first thing she noticed at Roosevelt is that the classrooms are totally paperless. “I wanted to do that,” she says.
She knew her Graduate Teacher Education Program (GTEP) students needed to be prepared to adapt their social studies lessons to this environment and enlisted her cohort in the project. “I was astonished that 100 percent of my students immediately started using the iPads to do their assignments,” she said. “There may have been a learning curve for a few; but for the most part, they instinctively knew what to do with a touch pad.”
All assignments, handouts, syllabi, and instructional materials for her classes are stored on Professor Thieman’s WiKi site. The students also have WiKi sites and DropBox or Google Drive accounts, making it effortless to share with each other in group work or to collaborate on a presentation. “Some, but not all of our GSE students, have grown up with Web 2.0, and without exception, all are involved in social networking,” she said. She has a mixture of digital natives and immigrants working with the technology.
The GSE students quickly found the benefits the iPads offered. Accessing the internet, searching for and sharing information, presenting videos, taking pictures, writing notes, were all quick and convenient on the iPads. There were limitations as well. They learned that laptops are often better for creating Prezi’s (a popular new slide show program), and Flash is not available on Apple products, so videos using Flash are not viewable.
GSE students are learning that there is a wide range of subjects and applications available for the iPads. Math, science, reading, and writing are abundant, but students interested in health, PE, or music will need to search harder to find worthwhile tools, or perhaps develop their own. Programs come with multiple levels, allowing preK-12 students the opportunity to self-differentiate the lessons without intervention from the teacher.
Dr. Will Parnell has recently written and presented on technology in early childhood classrooms. He has found smart phones and tablets to be useful tools, not only for assessment and documentation, but also for communication with parents. Students in his program can document a child’s progress in a specific activity and immediately upload it to an online portfolio for discussion with a parent later.
Special Education master’s students have found new and successful ways to work with students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Students Laura Hamilton, Brittany Hewitt, Patrice Lester, and Uzma Ahmad piloted a project this summer for parents and classroom teachers to familiarize them with software and how to use iPads with children with ASD. Touch-pad technology is promising to be a very powerful tool in the special education setting; new software applications can be helpful in teaching communication skills, appropriate behaviors, and helping students transitioning to new tasks. This program on how iPads can benefit students with autism, will be expanded this fall.
Students in the Initial Administrative Licensure (IAL) program will also be issued iPad minis this fall. As leadership interns, they need to be able to observe and gather evidence in the classroom that can be analyzed for effective teaching practices. The iPads have great potential for capturing, storing, uploading, and facilitating this process much quicker and more efficiently, and by using programs such as iWALK and eCOVE, information can be easily distributed and shared.
GSE students are also researching how technology can distract in the classroom. “For teachers, most of whom formed learning habits before such devices were common even in elementary schools, the problem of engaging students in a time where the stakes are at an all-time high is of utmost concern,” said doctoral student Jeremiah Franzen, who is researching “Engaging Digitally Preoccupied Students.” He notes that students today are perpetually connected to electronic devices 24 hours a day. With access to social media and mobile phones, preK-12 students can be attending classes all day, every day, but not absorbing any instruction at all. He says, “a student’s working memory is hijacked several times an hour by a digital device.”
In order for teachers to be successful, they must learn how to engage with students where they are. Doctoral student Rurik Nackerud, who helped with training in the new iPad project, says “if we learn how to leverage these tools, we can use them to keep kids engaged.” He is studying game-based learning and asserts that being distracted by electronic devices is no different than students being distracted by what’s going on outside the classroom windows.
”This is an excellent opportunity for faculty and students in the Graduate School of Education to explore the uses of mobile devices for teaching, learning, and research, and to share their learning throughout our education community,” says Dr. David Bullock, manager of technology in the GSE. “New technology is here, and will constantly change. We can and should be leaders in helping educators develop policies and practices that take advantage of this change.”