By Clare Walla
As technology seeps into more sectors of our lives, the question facing the Sag Harbor School District is, how will digital technology affect the classroom?
While the Sag Harbor School District’s Technology Coordinator Elliot Kaye presented the details of his proposed technology budget for the coming year at a school board meeting on February 7, Kaye and board members pondered the future of digital information. And for most the consensus was clear: schools across the country will start to see change.
“No matter what walk of life you enter into nowadays, whatever material is presented to you is presented via some type of technology,” Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone said. “That is the way we’re headed.”
“A paper book is going to be passé,” said School Board President Walter Wilcoxen, adding that he’s “all for” exploring ways to integrate laptops or e-readers into the curriculum. “The question is how do we do it, and how do we do it equitably?”
Already, Kaye’s budget factors in two pilot programs to be implemented next fall that will bring 15 to 20 iPads ($450 each) to the elementary school, and 15 to 20 Netbooks (under $400 each) to the high school.
Kaye explained that Pierson is hoping to provide a cart of Netbooks for English classes, “because of the amount of writing that they do.” An iPad would not be able to fulfill the same need as a Netbook, Kaye added, because its word processing capabilities are not as strong.
“It’s like typing on a giant cell phone,” he said.
“An iPad is not nearly as versatile as a laptop, but it’s good for content consumption,” Kaye continued. With a touch screen and various modes of accessing and using information, Malone said that iPads may help to “enhance a child’s knowledge.”
When reading text on an iPad, a student will be able to touch words that he or she doesn’t know and quickly access the definition, Malone explained. An iPad may also help facilitate dynamic lesson plans in the classroom.
For example, Malone continued, third graders study different cultures around the world, from Kenya and Italy to Japan. He envisions using iPads for small-group work, allowing groups of kids to congregate around a device and each to explore a different aspect of one of these cultures: economy, geography, government. The kids would all come back to the main group to share that information.
Using e-readers also has cost benefits.
“New materials are coming out so quickly,” he said. Rather than spending the time and money to purchase text books that can very quickly become outdated—particularly when it comes to history, which inevitably changes on an annual basis—Malone said one of the perks to using an iPad or a similar e-reader is the ability to download current information without replacing the entire content provider.
Malone was quick to add, however, that the school is “not abandoning books by any means.” This pilot program has no bearing on the library or any current textbooks used at the school. But, the use of an iPad will not replace “the read aloud of a book.”
One of the questions that goes along with introducing something new, however, becomes training.
According to Kaye, implementing new modes of accessing information, both at the school and in all aspects of life, “requires a culture change,” and this requires planning and careful implementation.
“That’s the real trick,” he said. It would be to the school’s detriment, he added, to introduce new technology without first training teachers in how to best use the equipment. “I’m adamant about providing space in the budget for professional development.”
Kaye said that the school currently relies on two teachers to facilitate group activities and provide tips for teachers on using technology to their advantage. However, there are no specific training days set up for iPad or Netbook usage.
While some teachers may need more training than others, Kaye and Wilcoxen agree that teachers should not have to be responsible for using lesson plans to teach children how to navigate through these tools.
“We’re not going to teach the kids how to use this,” Wilcoxen said.
Wilcoxen points out that students are what’s known as “native learners,” meaning their generation has grown up with computer technology ingrained in their way of life. (This doesn’t mean that all individuals are native learners, but all current students are of a generation that grew up at a time when technology was already widely used.)
Rather, teachers will be facilitators.
“They’re there to teach the students how to think,” Wilcoxen said. In other words, even if students are on the Web or clicking on apps, teachers are still the ones to explain right from wrong.
The school board contends next year’s plans to bring in iPads and Netbooks would help the district experiment with this technology to assess the pros and cons—it’s not necessarily a step toward necessitating laptop or e-reader use for each individual student.
Though the one-to-one model has been implemented in other school districts, Wilcoxen doesn’t think, at this point, that it is a good solution for Sag Harbor.
“The number one issue is we can’t afford a lot of things,” Wilcoxen continued. He noted that, in addition to the cost of purchasing a large quantity of these devices, he estimates that the cost to repair and maintain them over time will seriously dig into the budget.
For now, he said, “I think parents can help us out here.” He recognizes that not all families will be able to chip-in for laptops or e-readers for their kids, but these matters will be sorted out over time.
“I just don’t think it’s going to be the district that provides the devices,” he added.
Though the Technology Budget has not yet been passed and nothing is set in stone, whether iPads or e-readers, the Sag Harbor School District is on a course toward change.
“For us not to change with the times,” Malone added, “that’s putting our heads in the sand.”