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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Howard County Schools move to integrate new technology in the classroom

     I have blogged frequently about the impact of technology on many of our institutions.  Can we remember what it was like before online banking, shopping and communicating?  One community institution that is rapidly adjusting to the technological changes are schools.  The current model still mostly follows the model of teaching that has been with us for a couple of hundred years.  The teacher in front of 20-30 students with a chalkboard is how most of us remember school.  Slow learns and fast learners often receiving the same instruction from the same teacher.  Sure when we got to higher grades there was some tracking into an academic, vocational and commercial tracks.  I know that the model just described has been replaced in the past 25 years but the teaching method used by teachers has remained relatively unchanged. Somehow the  teaching philosophy of "Tell me and I'll listen, show me and I'll understand, involve me and I'll learn" has never really been the fully implemented into most classrooms.
    I recently spoke with Julie Wray who is Coordinator of Instructional Technology at Howard County Public Schools.  I read about a 2 year pilot program at the Elkridge Landing school to provide an electronic tablet to each student to be available to use with classroom instruction.  Teachers at the Elkridge school have had weekly "App Hour" sessions to familiarize them with computer apps to enhance the educational experience. Three high schools, Long Reach, Mt. Hebron and River Hill are allowing student tablets to be brought into the schools.  My interest in talking with Julie was to see how this new technology was used to improve the educational experience.  I was particularly interested in how teachers have reacted to the changes in their role brought on with the new technology.  I want to highlight the areas of impact.
    One of the most significant change has been with the role of the teacher.  The role has evolved into more of a facilitator as much as the traditional didactic model.  Students are given more freedom to search for information instead of just writing down what a teacher has provided in lecture form.  They can show they have mastered information in more than just taking a written test.  They can create a project that shows a higher level of mastery of information.  Think powerpoint presentations and You Tube videos.
    Students are encourage to work collaboratively on projects and learn in a peer fashion.  This collaborative model can be an enriching and empowering personal and educational experience.  It also can bring learning into normal daily activities that go beyond the classroom time.  Learning doesn't require having your books with you or going to a library.  Frankly, why are we still being tied to a pre-internet model when we have the whole world available through the internet?
      Can the usefulness of electronic tablets in the classroom be measured?  With this academic year being the second year of the model project at Elkridge Landing we should have some results some time next year. Some of the areas of evaluation will involve school attendance and performance on  math and english tests.

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