The use of technology in classrooms is quickly becoming the new normal in education. At the beginning of this year the Columbia Public School District began issuing mini iPads to Battle High School students and to fifth graders at Mill Creek Elementary, through a program called “one-to-one.”
But with these advancements comes the question: how do parents, and even teachers who may not be familiar with modern tools, make sure students are using them to their fullest potential?
Chip Donohue is the Dean of Distance Learning and Continuing Education Director, Technology in Early Childhood Center at Erikson Institute in Chicago.
He focuses on helping local educators looking to “Connect the Dots” between the use of technology, such as iPad minis and tablets, in the classrooms.
Donohue spoke to an audience at DBRL filled with both elementary and secondary educators about how they can use technology effectively in the classroom.
He said the first step for teachers being able to use technology with their students is actually understanding the technology themselves.
“We’ve got to do our homework first before we can help the kids,” Donohue said. “Our own media literacy what we know about these tools is essential. So we got to upscale and learn more and think about our attitudes so that we really can help children in this digital age.”
He said teachers, in both the elementary and secondary education levels, need to accept the idea that technology can enhance learning and should not be seen as a replacement for teaching.
“This (iPad) is a tool for learning. Not a more important tool than any other, and not a less important tool than any another, just a tool,” Donohue said.
Donohue said educators and parents should think of technology as windows that children look through in order to see the rest of the world, but some parents still have concerns.
Joanne Rainey, a Battle High School parent, said she feels like she has less control over how much technology plays a role in her daughter’s life.
“I do not know how to turn off the internet or have any control over it,” Rainey said. “I haven't ever even been informed about what she really needs it for. We didn't go to open house, you know at the school, they don't really talk about the use of the iPad mini and how I can have any control over it.”
She also said when she first heard her daughter was being issued an iPad she was excited, but as the semester went on she noticed her daughter was studying less due to the constant interruptions of social relationships.
“My concerns grew more and more when I realized that she used it just as much for social as she did for any homework,” Rainey said.
Sarah Howard is in charge of Children and Youth Services at the Daniel Boone Regional Library.
She said this topic is extremely important because students up through the high school level are digital natives, meaning they’ve lived their entire lives with connected mobile devices.
“It seems like all of us are struggling to figure out what it is that we should be doing with our little ones and how little they should really be to start doing it with them,” Howard said.
Donohue said it’s valid for educators and parents to be concerned that technology in the classroom will take away from student’s social interactions and skills.
“The risks are higher because the access points are so man more than they use to be,” Donohue said. “It’s so much harder to control. So the pressure falls on us, the adults, to understand that.”
He said it is important for parents, librarians, teachers and educators of any kind to be “media mentors” - good examples of using technology as a learning tool.
“It is about choosing the content wisely that lends itself to multiple people or multiple inputs for kids,” Donohue said.
He said having a designated “unplugged” time will allow students to not become so dependent on their phones and iPads.
Instead Donohue emphasized that if digital media tools are used correctly they shouldn't replace the student teacher relationship but rather enhance it.
Claire Adams is a graduate student in education program at Columbia College.
She’s about to start working in the classroom and said it’s become clear to her that technology is not going anywhere.
“I think it is absolutely necessary because are trying to prepare kids for jobs that don’t exist yet and we know that technology is going to be more and more integrated as they go so I think it is essential,” Adams said.
Donohue said the use of technology in the classroom will only continue to expand so it’s up to educators to figure how best to implement these new educational tools.