Ryan Lytle

A recent study highlights educators' feelings of goodwill toward technological innovation

Stacey Roshan, an Advanced Placement calculus teacher at Bullis School -- a private school for students grades three through 12 in Potomac, Md. -- faced the problem of trying to keep her students engaged as she walked them through the difficult mathematics curriculum. During her previous three years at the school, Roshan notes, students were routinely stupefied by the traditional classroom lecture and often left class with more questions than answers.

"They wanted so much more time in the classroom to work on problems," Roshan says.

To meet the needs of her students, Roshan made radical changes to her lesson plans. Using Camtasia Studio, a screen recording and video editing program, Roshan uploaded her lectures to iTunes and assigned them as homework. "We've kind of reversed the whole dynamic of the class," she says. "Instead of lecturing in class, I lecture to them when they're at home, and we work problems together [in the classroom]. I liken it to an English classroom where the kids go home and do the reading and then they come into class and have this lively, engaging discussion."

Taught with the video lectures, Roshan's students in the 2010-11 school year scored an average of 4.11 on the AP calculus test, compared to the 3.59 average among her students who took the test and were taught in the traditional classroom setting the year before. And a third of the class -- a 10 percent increase from the previous year -- scored a 5, the highest score a student can achieve on an AP test.

Other teachers have successfully implemented technology in the classroom, according to a recent study by CompTIA -- which surveyed 500 K-12 and college instructors across the country. The report, IT Opportunities in the Education Market, revealed that 78 percent of K-12 teachers and administrators believe technology has positively impacted the classroom and the productivity of students. Roughly 65 percent of educators surveyed also believe that students are more productive today than they were three years ago due to the increased reliance on technology in the classroom.

Jim Tracy, headmaster at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., sees the "process of technology coming into the classroom as inevitable." Under Tracy's watch, Cushing has provided an interactive whiteboard in every class and wifi access across the high school's campus for students to use laptops and tablets. Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is Cushing's implementation of an all-digital library.

"We were able to offer our students a library that was anywhere on campus where they were," Tracy notes. "For the same amount of money you would pay for a few thousand books on a shelf, you could have access to digital databases that give students access to literally millions of sources."

Working with a larger budget gives a school system more freedom and flexibility to purchase new tools and technology to use in the classroom. According to the study by CompTIA, 27 percent of K-12 educators believe obstacles, such as budgetary restraints, will make the adoption of new technology more difficult during the next 12 months. Respondents to the survey were instituted at schools with operating budgets ranging from less than $5 million to more than $100 million.

Tracy notes that, while having the luxury of a larger budget, Cushing's goal is to provide a technological guide for public schools. "Everything we try to do is designed to be an experiment," he says. "If it's successful, it's designed to be replicable in the public schools."

For a public school district, such as the Chicago Public Schools, budget concerns "are always an issue," says Talha Basit, the client computer service manager at CPS. Though there are more than 400,000 students among 675 schools, only about 100,000 computers and 5,000 iPads are available for student use.

CPS made iPads available through a grant process in which teachers had to apply for the technology and articulate how the tool would be used in their lesson plans. Using a management program called Absolute Manage MDM, Basit was able to track and oversee the usage of the tablets during the school year. "You can't just hand out iPads just for professional development or training for the teachers," Basit notes. "If you have the teachers who are motivated and know how to use a tool, we've seen some good results."

Basit says the jury is still out on test score improvements, but that the schools have seen improved attendance and a lot more enthusiasm from students. "The kids are eating this stuff up," he says.

While many educators have expressed goodwill toward the use of technology in the classroom, others are resistant to change. According to the study, 17 percent of respondents stated that purchasing new technology provides little benefit for students or instructors.

Kristen House, a former instructor at Belmont University and founder of A Novel Idea, a novel-writing workshop for middle school and high school students, believes that any school with a limited budget should be spending the money on training teachers. "As educators, we're expected to do so much with so very little," House says. "And instead of sitting down and getting to the root of the issue, which is the [student], we throw gadgets at the problem."

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While acknowledging that the use of smart phones and tablets has helped students do research and communicate, House says that the technology is only as good as the teachers that are using it. "A great teacher can do more for a student than any amount of money or technology you can throw at it," she notes. "Gadgets go out of date and humans do not. We only get better with age and with teaching and our gadgets all break down."

Cushing Academy's Tracy believes that educators who are against the implementation of technology in the classroom are fighting a losing battle. "Students inhabit a 21st century world for 18 hours a day," Tracy says. "And, all too often, educators put them in a 19th century classroom for six hours of that day, and the students feel a tremendous disconnect. We have a responsibility to teach them the skills to optimize these tools."

With the implementation of technology being such a popular topic in high school, Bullis School's Roshan -- who plans to introduce iPads into her AP calculus class next school year -- suggests teachers stick with what makes them the most comfortable. "I don't think that your material ever gets old if you're delivering it effectively," she says.

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