New technology brings teaching changes


July 22, 2010 at 2:22 a.m.

In a small office in the Victoria school district, boxes of brand new Flip cameras, Garmin global positioning systems and digital music players are stacked, waiting to be used next semester.

"If we're going to keep up and be able to communicate with students, then we have to think about a very different way of communicating," said Susanne Carroll, director of research and development for the school district.

A new teaching element called virtual literacy is one way school teachers hope to engage students. The method uses all elements of multimedia - digital music players, video conferencing, podcasting and a plethora of virtual tools - to teach and engage students.

"It's all about being aware," said Lawrence Rossow, dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Houston-Victoria.

With children's access and usage of iPhones, texting and digital communication, students are learning in ways that teachers are not equipped to teach, he said.

"We are at such a fundamental shift in the way learning takes place. It's as significant as what happened when computers were introduced," he said.

The university began a new task force on virtual literacy earlier this year and is working with local school districts.

The idea is to research how students learn when using technology and develop theories about the learning experience.

"We can observe them and we can probably cash in on the connectiveness, but that's not enough for university people," Rossow said.

School districts like Victoria, Goliad and Hallettsville are a few of those cashing in.

Tablets and Texting

In Victoria, Linda Dueser's instructional technologies facilitator position was created this school year to help train teachers on new technologies. The hope is they will integrate these technologies into their lessons.

Technologies like the InterwriteMobi, an electronic tablet, allows teachers to write on a hand-held mobile tablet and have their writing projected on a screen at the front of the classroom.

The tablet can be used along with a response system where students can text answers to the teacher's tablet through a remote control.

Dueser said the technology helps students who otherwise might not participate in the classroom.

"A lot of times they won't raise their hands, they won't answer questions because they're afraid of getting it wrong," Dueser said.

The texting method is also a way students are accustomed to communicating, she said.

In the Goliad school district, all second grade classes use the system along with digital music players, digital marker boards and laptops.

"It's all about engaging them and getting them wanting to learn because motivation's hard," said DeAna Helmer, instructional technologist for the Goliad school district. "They're excited about learning that way. When they're excited I think they learn."

Every middle school classroom uses the electronic SMART Board, which lets teachers and students write and move objects on the board by just using their fingers and every student seventh through 12th grade have Apple laptops.

In Hallettsville, kindergarten students use iPod Shuffles to listen to books and sing songs. Teachers also use the Shuffles to record audio lessons and send them home with students who might miss work.

"Now, instead of everybody listening to the same tape, it's individualized to meet their needs," said Trina Patek, principal of Hallettsville Elementary.

Patek said the Shuffle was especially handy during last year's swine flu outbreak. While her son, Trace, was staying home he listened to his lessons on the Shuffle.

"He could sit there and independently go through it himself," she said. "He could follow along in the books that they read for the day."

Technology Trauma

When it comes to technology, many times the teachers become the students. While students easily grasp the technology, the learning curve for some teachers to understand the tools is steep.

"It's just a slow process to get started," Dueser said.

She plans to use the new shipment of electronics and hold weekly training every Wednesday next school year.

In Hallettsville the problems of new technology became obvious this year.

"The biggest thing that we've learned is we need more help from people on the technical side of it," said Carla Jones, instructional technology director for the district.

Cost is another factor that keeps school districts from moving forward.

The mobile tablets the school districts use cost about $375 each and the remote control response systems about $2,200. Flip cameras cost about $100 each and the Garmin GPS, about $100 each.

In Goliad, the laptop upkeep amounts to $1 million over a four-year period, Helmer said.

The Hallettsville school district has funded the majority of their equipment from state grants.

In Goliad the district has absorbed much of the cost, but Helmer has used grants as well.

In Victoria, the most recent tools were purchased using funds from the American Recovery Act.

Another financial burden is staying up to date with technology.

"Then you have to consider in four years it's obsolete," Helmer said. "You have to start setting up a budget to rotate things in and out."

Teachers Here to Stay

No matter how futuristic the tools and digital processes, technology instructors are teachers here to stay.

"I don't ever see us totally without teachers and us being totally online," Helmer said. "Someone still has to deliver the knowledge somehow."

But those who fail to adopt such methods, risk losing touch with students and engaging them in a way they've become accustomed to learning and interacting.

"Our children are digital learners. They can pick it up and achieve it faster than we can. They want the information quick. They want the information fast," Patek said. "With today's society, there is this need."



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