Technology: a commonly used, valuable tool in schools
CHROMEBOOKS will replace iPads as Woodford County Public Schools moves forward with an expansion of the One-to-One initiative next school year. Unlike the iPads, pictured, Chromebooks have "a real keyboard," which students prefer. (File photo by Bob Vlach)
Technology has become a very useful tool for teachers and students in Woodford County Public Schools. Not only does a computer tablet or other devices allow students to watch a video clip or access useful information in class, they can view that same clip again or access additional information about what they're studying on their own. "The kids naturally gravitate to the devices," said Bob Gibson. The district's director of technology said this interest results in students being more involved in what's happening in class. "They become more engaged with technology because they're so used to utilizing technology," said Chief Academic Officer Jimmy Brehm. And students don't have a fear about using technology "to do cool things," said schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins, "and part of those cool things includes learning." He cited the example of a student who accessed the Watergate tapes on his iPad so he and his peers could listen to those tapes in a history class. "You're able to take advantage of that moment . and make it more meaningful to the kid because you've got a tool that allows you to access that (audio tape) right there on the spot," said Hawkins. Other high school students have been using video tapes in Spanish classes so they can listen to native speakers. "And that student can go back and listen to that video time after time after time because it's on their device," said Hawkins. In class, students can record their conversations with their peers so a Spanish teacher can listen to them on a video file and really break down how they're doing on their language skills, said Gibson. Technology has also become a commonly used tool in elementary classrooms. Computer programs with sounds and animation have become an effective way for students to review what they're learning in class, Hawkins said. "You're more engaged when things are more interactive with you on an individual basis," explained Brehm. Because technology has become such a valuable tool in everyday life, Hawkins said, it's important to expose students to technology and teach them how to use those tools more effectively in school and beyond. While technology can enhance student engagement, help differentiate instruction and offer a tool for feedback from teacher to student, Gibson said, "The greatest impact in the classroom is still the teacher." As technology has become more prevalent in schools over the last several years, teachers have been learning how to best use this tool in their classrooms. They have learned how to adapt to this changing environment for educating students. Two technology integration specialists work with teachers on strategies for enriching their instruction by using tools such as Google Classroom. Also, teachers share what's working in their classrooms with other educators. Before the Woodford County Board of Education voted to purchase Chromebooks so the district could expand its One-to-One initiative to include middle school students next school year, the devices were tried by teachers and students, Gibson said. And he saw firsthand how this device allows students to share writing pieces with their peer reviewers or teachers, who can instantly comment on what they've read using the same document. This collaborative tool was a significant reason why a recommendation was made to purchase Chromebooks instead of iPads, which are also more expensive tablet computers and do not have "a real keyboard," which students prefer. When the district launched its One-to-One initiative at Woodford County High School five years ago, there were a limited number of options: iPads or more expensive laptops, Gibson said. As the district gets ready to expand its One-to-One initiative to include seventh- and eighth-graders as well as high school students, the district purchased mobile hotspots so students can have Internet access. Technology has also allowed Woodford County Public Schools to use Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) days this past school year, which meant students did review-type schoolwork at home on days when snow or other weather conditions would have previously forced the cancellation of school and an extension of the school year. "We believe (that an NTI day is) a more valuable instructional day than June 3rd would be," said Hawkins. And he said the feedback from teachers, parents and students was positive when they were asked about using NTI days as an option to snow days.