Technology is hot issue at VB lately. With the netbooks being more widely distributed and the amount of assignments issued online increasing, the way students are being taught is rapidly changing.
High school math teacher Mr. John Rader is one who has repeatedly opted out of installing a SMART Board, a piece of technology the school has been using since 2006. He explains that his reasoning comes from a project he did while in his master's program.
“Back in the 80s I tried to prove pencil and paper learning versus computer learning. I ran the tests and found that students learned just as well with paper and pencil as they did with computers. For me, after proving to myself after a 100 page plus proof and thesis on it, I think that whatever you use can be just as effective.”
Walking into Mr. Rader's, a classroom that has college pennants covering the walls and green chalkboards facing the seats, can catch a student off-guard. Rader admits that most students find it weird initially, but they eventually appreciate having a bit of a switch-up in learning style.
“I'm not sure they learn any better but it's just different, and it's not the same thing period after period. That's worth something to me.”
While this style of teaching used to be the norm, it is the now considered a thing of the past, and has made way for faster, more efficient programs.
Michael Domke, a senior, explains that the netbooks are useful for some things, but not others. He gave the example of textbooks, saying that he would rather have the actual text than the online version, and that in the case of math, it's nice to have online notes, but doing the actual problems is better with pencil and paper.
One concern many teachers have expressed with each student having his or her own netbook is the distractions that it can bring.
Essma Kheiry, a junior, admits that she sometimes accesses other websites during classes, but that it's not hard to get back on track. She adds, “An advantage of netbooks is that it's easier to do research and stuff in class. Yeah, I think they've improved my education.”
Improving education is exactly what the initial intent was, and the man who built the program is Matthew Bosdorf (more commonly known as Boz), Van Buren's Computer Network Administrator. Since he started here in 2003, he's worked to make the technology in the school more reliable and user-friendly.
“The attitude before I came was that when they [the computers] didn't work, teachers didn't understand it and there was no support system so they got shoved to a corner. Making the labs available and reliable, so that you can count on the technology, that really changed the culture, which was the first step. Then it was, okay, everyone feels comfortable, the next step is Moodle, which was five or six years ago.”
High school English teacher Leigh Ann Erickson is one that has also been helping make Moodle more accessible to teachers. (Moodle is the school's online system, where teachers can upload assignments, notes, quizzes, and many other things that pertain to their classes. Oftentimes, however, the full capacity of the site is not utilized.) Partnering with Brett Yunker, who is Boz's assistant, the two have been giving Moodle tutorials and putting together videos to assist with working technology into classrooms.
Erickson is a fan of VB's steps to push forward with this technology because she believes it makes the material more related to the world. She admits she loves being able to hold books, but “I think I would've enjoyed learning on a more global scale. I was an English major huddled up reading my Jane Austen, which was fine, but I didn't think of what I was doing on a global scale.”
Just like the world, electronics keep evolving, and Boz is looking to the future, too. He says that the administration is focusing on the best way to use the devices that each student has, and how to give them the most opportunities, especially now that most things can be done on the web. He has the idea of making more flexible courses available, although not necessarily the traditional kind where students meet in a classroom each day.
He also says that the other big question is about hardware. The administration wants to have the device that best fits the students and offers the most features, but the devices also have to be practical. With the rapid change of devices, the answer to this question is not a concrete one.
One way solutions are being scoured out is through a committee that includes one teacher from the branches of VB schools, all three principals, and the superintendent. They are all participating in an online class and meet every other week to discuss goals for 2020.
Erickson says, “The cool thing is the administration wants to do it right, and they want input.”
Overall, many teachers and students seem to be in agreement; the netbooks have opened up a vast array of opportunities that students before those currently in school never had.