Time to brings schools into the 21st century; iPads alone can't do the trick

Time to brings schools into the 21st century; iPads alone can't do the trick

August 27th, 2013 in Opinion Times

It's the 21st century, but Hamilton County schools still haven't quite caught up.

Nine months ago, Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith announced an ambitious plan to give all students iPads, or other tablet computers, both to enhance the classroom experience and to get schools up to speed for online tests by 2014.

But then came April, and despite months of talk about major systemwide technology upgrades, school officials budgeted no new cash for the estimated $20 million needed to buy iPads and provide infrastructure improvements here in the Gig City.

Instead, Smith said schools would rely on support from parent and community groups, and on students bringing devices from home. Officials also expect to receive about $1.3 million from Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed $51 million fund for statewide technology upgrades.

Meanwhile, down the road in North Georgia, brand new Saddle Ridge School in Walker County's Rock Spring is about to open up for classes with no text books - only iPads that can search cyberspace for learning tools.

And Saddle Ridge appears off to a bright start, with plenty of training and support technicians to help teachers adjust to lessons without paper.

If this sounds expensive, the school's officials say buying textbooks would have been even more costly.

But for all the dazzle of technology, the value of a tablet computer as a teaching tool still comes down to the teachers and students and the quality of curriculum planning.

While Hamilton County moves glacially, still stringing wire for wireless bandwidth, the Cleveland (Tenn.) City Schools last year piloted iPads in three classrooms. One of the lessons, according to Andrew Phillips, Cleveland schools technology supervisor, was about supporting and training teachers to use this newest tool.

"To me, the professional development is the most important thing," he said. "Effectively using an iPad in the classroom is totally different from just having one at home."

As for learning, the same lesson applies. Saddle Ridge already is planning a curriculum as basic as teaching personal responsibility, i.e. the care and feeding of each student's iPad.

And just as teachers must learn how to teach on a computer device, students must learn how to make the grade with them.

Clearly with computers and certain computer applications, youngsters can use critical thinking in more ways than ever. That critical thinking is the truly the most valuable form of education - the piece that makes grades rise faster than all other rote school tasks and makes students job-ready.

Computers-in-schools critics say there are downsides: Distractions are just a click away. A just-released Canadian study found that laptops for many post-secondary students during lectures could be hurting their grades and lowering their classmates' marks, as well, if the students using computers tried to mult-task.

But, of course, passing notes was also distracting.