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Schools agree on advantages of technology

Whether private or public, schools agree about technology use in the classroom: It is essential.

The positive aspects of using smartboards, tablets and desktop computers to teach and learn overrule any drawbacks, area educators say.

“The teachers love the way the use of technology with their students holds their interest and allows students to be more engaged,” said Annmarie Lehner, information technology officer for the Rochester City School District.

“Technology allows teachers to individualize and pace the material, and we can provide reinforcing materials for the benefit of parents and students alike,” said Tracey Bors, who teaches English at McQuaid Jesuit High School.

Drawbacks can include inadequate professional training, opportunities for plagiarism and equipment failure.

The city school district spends around $4 million a year on instructional software, smartboards, lab equipment, mobile technology, infrastructure, licensing and support for business systems.

Approximately three quarters of the annual funds are directly tied to schools, officials say. The district plans technology implementation two to three years in advance.

“(A drawback is) having insufficient staff and resources to provide the level of professional development needed to make the most effective use of classroom technology,” Lehner said.

At McQuaid, an all-boys Catholic prep school, technology is financed through a mixture of government funding earmarked for technology and allocations from operational and capital budgets.

“The largest challenge for determining technology is anticipating how it will be used,” said Daniel Pitnell, McQuaid’s technology specialist. “For anticipation of use, it’s difficult to generalize how a technology may be adopted in the classroom. One can take polls, collect requests and put together small discussion groups, but because teaching is such an individualized pursuit, what works for one does not always work for another.”

Teachers can use the technology to give students control of their work, Bors said. With access to the Internet, students take projects further than they do without that access, becoming immersed in a topic.

“I like how technology stimulates student interest. I also like that students can all be working on a highly individual project in the same shared space. Boys, especially, like freedom of choice, so this is very reinforcing for them. I like the fact that they are only restricted by their imaginations—everything is there at their fingertips,” she said.

Technology gives students another way to express themselves, fostering independence. At the same time, it drives collaboration, Bors said.

“I think technology tools are an aid to students’ creative potential. Students may be seated at their desks, but they are millions of miles away in terms of the ideas and concepts that they are interfacing with. It allows them to feel a sense of wonder and adventure—two highly motivating factors.” 

Some schools in the city school district have cyber-lounges—non-traditional learning spaces used by staff and students in 1:1 schools, where all students have laptops and take courses featuring both online and face-to-face components.

“With the addition and expansion of technology, though, there is also a need for continuous professional development for teachers—to ensure that they are able to use the technology most effectively with their students,” RCSD’s Lehner said. “This is always something we struggle with—the teachers want the PD, but we have a limited number of instructional tech teachers to provide this level of support.”

At St. Joseph School, a Catholic elementary school in Penfield, every classroom is equipped with a smartboard and a desktop computer. The school also has access to multiple software programs and Wi-Fi access for all grades. The school buys technology with money from Title I through New York State (targeting students most at risk for failing), Scholastic Book Fair for software, and private donors or fundraising events.

The school spells out its philosophy on its website.

“Our expectations are all focused on one thing—helping the students. We are open to using new software, different hardware—smart board, touch screen, etc., and Internet access to further expand our students’ exposure and understanding of any given subject. We hope that this will help to encourage their curiosity and their imagination as they advance through their school years, and give them another viable tool for learning.”

Learning is the focus no matter what the classroom, local educators say.

7/10/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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