Teachers try new technology

Maria Kalaitzandonakes

Technology reigns: Band director Steve Mathews uses his iPad for rehearsal each morning to look at the score and drill charts for the Emerald Regiment marching band.
Because of  Columbia Public Schools’ technology committee’s recommendations, RBHS updated their technology on campus.  The district extended Wi-Fi capability to every room in RBHS, gave all secondary teachers iPads, added a student portal and loosened the restrictions on Internet usage.
The district looked at the technology as a reinvestment in the future of the schools and faculty, allowing teachers to develop more modern and engaging lessons, principal Mark Maus said.
“We’re a little bit behind the curve compared to other districts,” Maus said. “It’s really about exploring and seeing if these tools are right for us, letting [teachers] explore the curriculum and explore the possibilities.”
The district tech committee sparked the change, said media specialist Dennis Murphy, when members began asking themselves, “Is it right for us to send students out into the world after having protected them all through high school? And when they can go home and go to any [website] they want. … And on the other side, if a parent comes to us and says, ‘My child got into [a bad website]’ and we have to say that it was wide open. Well maybe it shouldn’t have been wide open.”
Possibly more influential than the loosening of restrictions are the iPads, the most noticeable change in technology. Murphy said the iPads are a trial run for a possible future 1-to-1 ratio of devices to students.
Teachers are to try out the iPads this year and report to the district with their findings. If deemed successful, in a few years, all secondary students could theoretically start the year with a lighter backpack and a more expensive notebook.
However, the iPad by itself is not a useful device without the addition of applications which make it effective. Columbia Independent School, which made the change to iPads last year, is already facing the problem of how to supply safe, appropriate Apps to their students.
CIS senior Matthew Monos said although the iPads make the classroom more efficient, it has not lived up to its full potential because of a slow Apps process.
“Our admin[istrators] don’t let us put Apps that we want or need on the iPads without going through some lengthy process of approving the Apps,” Monos said. “Having your teachers have access to everything you do on the Internet is really sort of disconcerting, and frankly, disturbing in some ways.”
Some departments have found the iPads less than useful so far, because of the lack of knowledge about which Apps are available and helpful in the classrooms. The Math Department has not yet found Apps that fit the curriculum they teach.
“We’re still looking for Apps that would allow us to enhance our lessons,” math teacher Travis Martin said. “If the only thing we really do on the iPads is have the e-books, then there could be a cheaper alternative like a Nook that the school could use.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Upton said the district picked iPads, rather than a cheaper option like the Nook, because Apple has a history of innovation and development.
“The other companies are stuck behind,” Upton said. “They can’t keep up.”
Censorship and cost effective Apps are some things the district will have to iron out, Murphy said. However, some teachers, like Foreign Language Department head Jim Meyer, managed to incorporate the iPads into their daily teacher duties.
“I use my iPad to take attendance, quickly taking down basic grading … to collect digital texts that I can take notes on and show the notes to students,” Meyer said. “I would love to have more [Apps,] to teach kids with them in a way that’s not gimmicky.”
Teachers like Meyer and Martin are requesting more help with learning how to teach with the iPads and utilize them in the most effective ways. Although teachers did start the school year with some basic training for the iPad — including fundamental knowledge of the device — the year-long learning process will prove whether the device is right for the classroom.
“At the end of the year the teachers will all come forward with their findings,” Martin said. “Then we’ll see. … This really is a trial run.”
By Maria Kalaitzandonakes