Cobb County is about to experiment with integrating the technologies that dominate children’s lives into the classroom through an ambitious pilot project at three middle schools.
This is a growing trend, but one for which effectiveness has yet to be proven.
While there is much on-going research on new technologies and their effects on teaching and learning, there is little rigorous, large-scale data that makes for solid research, education experts say. The vast majority of the studies available are funded by the very companies and institutions that have created and promoted the technology, raising questions of the research’s validity and objectivity. In addition, the kinds of studies that produce meaningful data often take several years to complete—a timeline that lags far behind the fast pace of emerging and evolving technologies.
For example, it is difficult to pinpoint empirical data to support the case for mobile learning in schools—a trend that educators have been exploring for several years now—let alone data to support even newer technologies such as tablet computers like the iPad. The studies that do look at the effects of mobile technologies on learning are often based on small samples of students involved in short-term pilots, not the kind of large-scale, ongoing samples of students that educators and policymakers would like to see.
(You may want to check out the earlier blog I posted about an early technology adapter and his second thoughts about incorporating cell phones into his classroom. )
Clearly, students today use technology in every facet of their lives and every moment. Two different friends have shared vacations photos with me, one from a family’s beach trip and other from a family mountain hike. In both cases, most of the photos of their teens capture them with their heads bowed over a phone reading or writing a text.
When students at Lost Mountain, Floyd and Daniell middle schools return to class in September, they’ll have a new guest network set up for them to browse the Internet with their own technology. Access to certain websites will be restricted through filters.
School systems traditionally have taken a hostile approach to students using their cellphones and laptops during school. But as young people’s access to phones has broadened and the phones have gotten smarter, several metro area school districts, including Forsyth and Gwinnett counties and Marietta city schools, have begun to encourage the use of technology from home in “bring your own device” initiatives.
At a recent training session, several Cobb teachers scanned codes posted in the hallways that can link cellphones to lectures, facts of the day and school announcements, for example.
When the initiative was proposed at last month’s school board meeting, several members questioned whether such a policy would tempt students to use their cellphones inappropriately. Last year, a student was caught taking a picture of another student in the bathroom with their phone.
“A lot of people wanted to argue that that was a technology problem,” Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. “I’d argue that’s a behavioral problem.”
Hinojosa said the system is looking at ways it can rewrite technology policies to encourage appropriate use.
Board member Tim Stultz asked how the district will handle students who don’t have technology to bring to class. Chris Ragsdale, assistant superintendent of operational support, said the system will consider letting those students check out laptop computers, cellphones and other devices during the school day and track how it goes.
If things go well, they’ll expand the practice to include other schools. If not, they’ll scale back.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog