How New Technology is Changing the Classroom

By Kathleen Mory

Fall is upon us again, and as a new generation of students starts the next academic year of classes, they have a lot of new resources to look forward to this school year. As it has been for the past century, technology is advancing fast and it is changing the way we receive information. With the recent invention of such items as the Apple iPad & iPhone and the Android Smartphone and tablet platforms, academic professionals have been encouraging and reacting to their students’ utilization of these technology products. Here in the Lehigh Valley, many classrooms are now taking advantage of these new opportunities and adapting their lesson plans to include these new forms of technology and their related products.

“Less paper, more practice” in the classroom, is one of the technology goals for the Hillside School in Macungie, Pennsylvania according to Sue Straeter,  Head of  School. When asked about the benefits of using new technology in the classroom, Straeter emphasized that the school has encouraged her teachers and support staff to highlight the use every day. Hillside is a regional academic benchmark institution for students with learning differences and is one of many schools in the Lehigh Valley utilizing the iPad for learning purposes this year. The school received eight iPads as a gift from a donor this year and plan on using them to help their students through the use of applications or “apps,” such as Dragon Dictation. Dragon Dictation is an app that assists students that have difficulty with handwriting their notes in class or writing papers at home. The app uses speech recognition software to accurately type out words and sentences for the students to create documents enter webpage information or complete internet searches.

Straeter also acknowledges that students need four main components to their education to succeed: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. “Creativity,” she says, “is the way we have to think in the future.” The new wave of touch-screen technology is an easy and user-friendly media that can deliver information to the public with a slight touch of the finger. This makes these products very student-friendly. This creative delivery of information is instantaneous and deliberate. It has made research something not to be feared, but to be enjoyed. This simplification is a huge stride in the educational world specifically from the standpoint of individuals and parents who grew up researching school projects in the annual printed encyclopedia.

Hillside School’s Library Media Specialist, Sharon Cohen, explains that many teachers from the school were given iPads to keep up with the constantly changing hi-tech know-how. This helps the teachers learn how to best use these mediums to the student’s advantage and discover new applications that they can introduce into the classroom. Cohen boasts about utilizing apps such as Bookshare and Scholastic Bookflix that offer ways for students to access to books in which to they would not necessarily have access. Bookshare will read audio books to students and also is able to be transported to an iPod, iPhone or any compatible Smartphone in order to make the literature portable.

Technology is broadening [they] are able to learn,” Cohen excitedly exclaims. The Lehigh Valley is adapting to the changing mediums at all levels of education.

Nancy Cleff, a third grade teacher in the East Penn School District, also sees the change in the classroom thanks to advancements in technology. Even in elementary aged students, the impression that technology is making in their lives is highly visible and there are several recent changes that have been implemented in the Lehigh Valley to promote technology use. One of the greatest examples in elementary education has been the use of Moodle, a software package that builds the framework of internet-based classroom projects. Moodle makes it possible for students to have group discussions outside of the classroom, in a private message board style. Children can now answer homework questions over the internet and receive instant feedback from their teachers and classmates on their responses.

As with any change, there are some potential drawbacks to the electronic movement of the last decade. Cleff discussed that while using new types of technology is unavoidable, it is important to still teach the basics. Not every family has a computer in their household and technology is a costly investment for districts and parents. Therefore, it is difficult to completely transform a classroom into an electronic-reliant space. “Children are like sponges with technology,” Cleff says. “They are excited when they see the laptops come out, but I do think the age group I work with still needs to concentrate on the basics of communicating face-to-face and writing a good paragraph.” Both Straeter and Cleff recognize that teachers are now tasked with teaching children appropriate “net-iquette.” They also must be aware of the websites that their students are visiting, and the resources they utilize in the education process. Teachers face the responsibility to teach their young minds the difference between a negative web resource and one that is accurate and promotes learning.

There is no doubt that students are benefiting from the new touch-screen movement and receiving information through all types of avenues. These types of advancements change how students and teachers both look at their future assignments and research. Combining technology and the fundamental basics in Lehigh Valley classrooms will advance the learning here. Students now have programs that can individualize learning for students and tailor to an ever changing audience. Technology is now making it possible to personalize the classroom to every student in every subject, making sure that the children receive the most out of their education. If inclined, Lehigh Valley residents can find these technology products at the Apple Store at the Lehigh Valley Mall, or other local retailers. Featured Applications like Dragon Dictation and Bookshare can be found on the Apple App Store, the Android Marketplace or the Amazon Appstore, and additional educational focused apps are also available online.

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