21st Century Learning: Digital Technology Turns Teaching Around
Printed textbooks, paper handouts and assignments and more are becoming things of the past in Tosa schools.
When school came back into session, it didn't take long for some Wauwatosa students to see that they were learning in a different landscape than the one they had left last spring.
It was now, in large part, a digital landscape.
From Day 1 in Juliebeth Farvour's advanced placement calculus class at East High School, the topic was new technology and how it would be used. Students in Farvour's class had been selected to receive a consignment of iPads purchased by the Wauwatosa School District as part of a pilot program to push ahead with online learning.
"Their only homework for the first weekend was learning to use the iPads," Farvour said.
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As for how the students are using the devices, there is a bit of a "Back to the Future" twist. It turns out, Farvour said, that there was no application available — at least none she has discovered — that allows students to readily type out the complex equations involved in calculus.
"I've found an app, though, that allows them to handwrite it on the touchscreen," Farvour said. "Then they can save it as a PDF, send it to me, and I can write corrections on it and send it back to them. And they can invite anyone on the network to join in.
"We have wi-fi in the classroom, so they can even send it to me in class. We're going to be going paperless."
Saving paper saves money, but what about this high-tech application, called Whiteboard?
"It was free," Farvour said. "In fact, of all the apps we found to use, nothing was more expensive than $5."
Better yet, going paperless also can mean going without textbooks. Farvour said that low-cost apps and e-books had replaced the calculus text she has used year after year. The cost of those now-shelved textbook: $165 apiece.
Bound textbooks are constantly updated and reprinted with new editions, costing more and more each time. Apps and e-books can be updated digitally for next to nothing.
Some taxpayers gasped at the idea of the school district buying 1,000 iPads at more than $250 each, but Farvour sees them nearly paying for themselves in the first year.
Students are locked out from downloading any other apps to the school iPads, Farvour said, and they also are not allowed at this time to use the classroom apps from devices they own.
Farvour said that the other classes at East using the iPads were AP psychology, AP statistics and challenge seminar. The reason those high-level courses were chosen was not as a reward, she said. Rather, it was to ensure that those immediately college-bound students had a solid introduction to the latest in online learning technologies before they were confronted with it away from home as wide-eyed college freshmen.
West High School took exactly the opposite tack, Farvour said. It provided its share of iPads to Algebra 1 classes so that those freshmen would get an immediate introduction to digital learning concepts that they could build on throughout high school.
Expanding the classroom
In Elaina Meier's social studies class at East, iPads were not in evidence. The high-tech aspects of her class are less visible but are none the less embedded in her teaching.
"I'm piloting a hybrid class," Meier said. "It's a combination of traditional classroom teaching, small-group seminars and online learning.
"Two classes at each high school are participating, one each in English and social studies," she said. "We're implementing the same curriculum that has been taught — the same lessons, but with greater variety in how (students) acquire those skills."
To facilitate online learning, district technology coordinator Jamie Price this year opened up student access to document sharing and e-mail, and the district now allows greater use of the Internet than it has in the six previous years since it began experimenting with online lessons.
Meier said that online learning was also being brought into freshman history classes so that every student would have some experience working in an online environment.
"Online does not mean a kid sitting at home, working alone and setting his or her own time and commitment," she said. "Online is really a community. It's not doing away with the classroom, it's expanding it.
"We used to talk about where we wanted to take our students on field trips — to the museum, to the Kettle Moraine. Now we're talking about where we can take them in the digital realm."
Meier will soon be giving a presentation on hybrid classes to the School Board in light of the interest it has prompted among other teachers.
Breaking through the firewall
The next digital pilot program for the schools, on a smaller and more tentative scale, is carefully allowing students to begin using their own pads, tablets, laptops and phones for classes, said Jean Hoffmann, assistant prinicipal at East.
Students have never, of course, been discouraged from using their own computers to do research, writing and other homework, but they had been given limited opportunity to cross the firewall into the school network.
Now, "kids are bringing in their own laptops to our We the People class," Hoffmann said. "And when you see what they're doing on their own, you have to think it's inevitable.
"Last spring, two of our student graduation speakers wrote and delivered their speeches on their phones."
Please see the related story 21st Century Learning: Kids Already Buying High-Tech Tools for School on Wauwatosa Patch.