Technology in Schools

Classroom technology includes iPads, laptops and open source software optimized for digital learning

The debate about whether or not to include technology in schools is over — and technology won. Now the question is how to use classroom technology. Should every subject incorporate digital learning or should there be separate classes? What devices should teachers and students use? At what grade level should technology be introduced? Every school has its own answers to these questions, and they can be dramatically different.

Invasion of the classroom iPad

As of March 2013, Apple had sold more than 4.5 million iPads to US schools, and that number keeps growing. Apple’s success isn’t surprising, considering that the iPad can process more than 75,000 educational apps. Schools also receive an education institution discount when they purchase iPads, making the investment more appealing.

These two elements — apps and affordability — factored into Ridley School District’s decision to introduce iPads in the classroom, starting in Kindergarten. “It gives kids another tool to learn at their own pace,” says Lee Ann Wentzel, superintendent of the Folsom, PA district. “Our goal is to get better and better at giving students personalized learning.”

According to Wentzel, the iPad meshed well with Ridley’s desire to include technology in the classroom yet stay true to its learning objectives. “We put our existing curriculum into our learning management system,” known as Canvas, explains Wentzel. “It gives the teacher flexibility with how she wants to control her classroom and get her points across.” Because students are able to log on from anywhere, it helps keep absent kids up to date. 

Despite the iPad’s popularity, not every school district chooses the Apple product — and some have reported replacing the tablet with laptops, believing a traditional computer setup is more conducive to learning, as  many kids see the iPad as more of a gaming platform.

Classroom laptops & open source software

Evesham Township, NJ, bolstered its classroom technology program by starting to issue Google Chromebooks to its 6th graders last fall, all the better to utilize Google Docs so students can work on their projects at school or at home. (The kids will keep the Chromebooks throughout their middle school journey.) Another alternative gaining popularity is open source software, which allows its source code to be modified by anyone. The Penn Manor School District chose to use open source software to launch its high school’s 1:1 laptop program.

“Technology has become incredibly consumerized,” says Charlie Reisinger, technology director for the Lancaster, PA district. “As technology becomes simpler, we’re losing kids because they’re not working to learn what’s behind the technology.” Reisinger has found that the Linux laptops the high school students use boost their curiosity. “We encourage [students] to download programs and explore,” Reisinger says. “They are learning to play with ideas and concepts and tools that are not in the formal curriculum.”

In order for the open source route to work for students who are less tech-savvy, Penn Manor fields a student-run tech help desk as an honors-level class that doubles as an IT apprenticeship of sorts and appeals to a wide range of students.“The key for us is opening up our systems and trusting our students,” says Reisinger.

Given the quick pace of technological advancements, schools will no doubt need to be nimble as they adopt and adapt to using devices in the classroom.

Katherine Nolen is a local freelance writer.

Categories: Education Features, Tech Talk