by Maria El-Abd ’12
In the past decade, schools throughout the nation have rushed to incorporate technology in the classroom, claiming such initiatives make learning a more engaging experience for students. Various classrooms have expanded to include desktops, laptops, SMART Boards, iPods, iPads, and the list continues to grow. According to the New York Times, this software boom is estimated to cost around $2.2 billion a year. However, mixed results have caused teachers—and students—to pause and consider if a one-size-fits-all approach to technology has been as effective as they’d once hoped. Sweet Briar College, with its recent drive towards increasing classroom technology- in the form of the y:1 program’s distribution of iPads and the technologically advanced Benedict 101-is not immune from such debate.
“This is one of the most challenging and important educational issues of our day: for which students can what technologies support what learning outcomes?” said Jo Ellen Parker, president of Sweet Briar College. Said Parker, “I hope to make it possible for Sweet Briar faculty members to use whatever technologies they feel will best support their teaching in particular classes.” This focus on incorporating technology in the classroom fits in well with President Parker’s goals for the college. Upon arriving at SBC, part of President Parker’s vision has been to “support ‘digitally sophisticated’ teaching and learning,” as described in the college’s Plan for Sustainable Excellence.
For fifth-year students in the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at SBC, the focus on technology in education is one they can’t ignore. This past May, Sweet Briar received a grant from Verizon Foundation to integrate technology in K-12 classrooms. As part of the two-year pilot, MAT students are provided with iPads to use in their student teaching experience. The 2011-2012 academic year marks SBC’s first year with the pilot program.
Jeff Frank, assistant professor of education at Sweet Briar, said, “The iPad can be a useful tool in building connections between students and the subject they are learning. […] Our graduates are experiment ing with, and learning the strengths of, the iPad while still in graduate school so that they can strategically use this technology to increase student learning when they graduate.”
In addition to the MAT program, iPads have been a focus in the y:1 program, a program designed for first-year students to explore in-depth a current national or international topic through year-round lectures, presentations, films, and discussions. Students who successfully apply for the y:1 program receive a free iPad loaded with applications and the year’s Common Reading book.
The drive towards technology is also reflected in SBC’s pilot technology classroom, Benedict 101. Funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, the redesigned classroom contains, among other features, a Mac Mini computer, a SMART Board, a widescreen television mounted on the opposite wall, an LCD projector, a webcam for video conferencing, and a document camera.
While teachers and students in grade schools and colleges can often be seen in classes using various combinations of laptops, SMART Boards, iPads, and even smart phones, not everyone is quick to support a broad use of technology in the classroom.
“I think the use of iPad technology is a great idea, but […] the benefit of technology depends on the individuals using the device(s),” said Gabriella Muglia, a junior at SBC. “[G]iving iPads to younger students with less focus might not be as advantageous as giving them to older students or students who have proven to be concentrated, goal-oriented individuals.”
Because of constant changes in technology, Frank said the focus for teachers should be on something more than the technology itself. He said, “All of these things—technology, the subject, students—change (sometimes quite dramatically) from year to year. So instead of focusing on instrumental things […], teacher education programs need to prepare students for uncertainty, because change is integral to what it means to teach. Technology is just one more added layer. It is an important layer, but it is no more important than the other types of changes that teachers will manage and respond to from year to year.”
Contact Maria El-Abd at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.