Teachers use Digital Technology to Educate Georgia’s Youth
The Georgia Department of Education has a three-year technology plan that will create a “personalized learning environment for every K-12 student.” This plan will lead to “electronic book bags” for all students in the state of Georgia, which would eliminate the need to carry around a fifty-pound book bag with traditional textbooks. School Library Journal, in an article entitled “Textbooks out, iPads in?,” reported there is an annual outlay of $40 million going to traditional textbooks. The article continued by noting that “Georgia is considering replacing its textbooks with iPads” in an effort to help lower costs.
Pauline Andrews, Principal at Freedom Park School in Fort Gordon, GA says, “The teachers are now on board because they see the benefits from the test scores when children have access to a rich curriculum that’s integrated with the technology.” Freedom Park School recently participated in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) day. They had several members of the community in and around Fort Gordon attend and show the children a variety of useful skills in each department. Andrews noted that the students were very enthusiastic about learning how to make a radio receiver from just basic tools, and many others were interested in the capabilities of the 3-D printer during its demonstration. When given the chance to succeed by integrating technology into the curriculum, students at Freedom Park School have improved test scores throughout the year. “We live in a digital world now, so the children are picking up technology much quicker,” recalls Andrews, “so it just makes sense to have digital technology and digital textbooks available for students.”
In an article entitled “Tablets over Textbooks?,” Alex Wright states, “the iPad seems to have proven itself capable of engaging at least some students more effectively than traditional textbooks.” Wright continues to discuss a study conducted by Houghton Mifflin’s Harcourt (HMH) that compared learning outcomes for students using iPads vs. traditional textbooks. The study showed that “fifth graders who used an iPad game called Motion Math over a five-day period saw a 15% rise in test scores” at a middle school Riverside, California.
Several school systems in Georgia have taken the lead to ensure its success with digital integration into its plans for the next few years as well. This goes hand in hand with President Obama’s plan for connecting all schools to the digital age. This plan wants to ensure “that 99 percent of American students can benefit from these advances in teaching and learning.” It is also why the President announced an initiative that would “foster a robust ecosystem for digital learning” called ConnectED to jump start learning technology across the nation’s K-12 schools.
In 2013, Heather Cox, a fourth-grade teacher in Fulton County Schools, was honored in the White House Champions of Change Program as a ConnectED Educator. Cox stated that last year, while on her professional Twitter page, she came across the nomination form for program, and after reading over the description, she sent an email to her students’ parents to see if they would nominate her. To her surprise, Cox heard back from the White House a few months later saying, that she had “like 20 nominations,” so they wanted to get a little more information about her. From there, Cox was chosen as one of ten people honored as a ConnectED Leader.
Harris Interactive in the National 2013 Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey has reports involving 500 Elementary Students. The survey showed:
- 33 percent of students using a smart phone
- 16 percent using a basic e-reader
- 32 percent using small tablets like the Google Nexus or Apple iPad Mini
- 23 percent that are using a full sized tablet like the Apple iPad either at home or at school.
Dawn Reiss, in her article “Textbooks to Tablets” for District Administration Magazine, reflected on a study done by the United States Department of Education. Reiss notes that technology-based instruction can “reduce the time it takes to reach a learning goal by 30 to 80 percent.” This makes learning a more efficient task when it comes to preparing students for standardized tests. In 2012, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan developed a five-year challenge as part of the “Digital Textbook Playbook.”
This Playbook is set to “help transform American classrooms into digital learning labs by modifying the textbook adoption process, by allowing K-12 schools to use taxpayer funding once reserved for printed books to be used on iPad’s, Kindles, and other devices, as well as software.”
According to the Digital Textbook Playbook, in 2012, the average cost of a school going digital is around $600 per student per year. However, a 500-student school can save between $35 and $250 per student per year by switching to digital textbooks according to the Textbook Collaborative from Project Red, a research project that examines the use of technology in education. Fulton County Schools in Georgia has already incorporated funds estimated at $100,000 to purchase computers and iPads for new staff for all Learning and Teaching offices in their 2013-2017 Technology Plan. This is in addition to the full technology budget to properly outfit the schools for the necessary software updates.
Fayette County Schools adopted the Bring Your Own Technology Program this 2013-14 school year. Connie Davis, a first-grade Fayette Elementary School teacher, stated that she has already seen a major difference over the years in the way that children grasp reading and math skills. Davis continued saying the children “love iPads in their classroom!” She utilizes the iPad to introduce and reinforce the lessons they will be doing throughout the week. “The children now have access to the reading book and all the skills we do in class. They can go home and do it online,” says Davis. “They think it’s a big deal to be able to go ahead of us or read extra books related to the class lessons while at home.”
Students as early as preschool are introduced to digital devices to increase brain activity and learning capabilities as early as possible. In Fulton County Schools at Love T. Nolan Elementary School, Kindergarten teacher Michaela Boggs uses the iPad with her class almost daily. Boggs states that at first she had “to direct and model the activity for them, otherwise they will sit there looking dazed and confused.” However, once they know what the goal is, Boggs continued, “they understand and can work independently or with a group. They seem to catch on quickly while using technology.”
Many school systems across the state of Georgia have adopted the Bring Your Own Device/Technology (BYOD/BYOT) Program since its inception in 2011. It allows students to bring their personal smart tablets and devices to school. Students in many school systems across the state have to sign a “BYOT contract” as well. This contract essentially makes the parent and student aware they are solely responsible for their own devices. During school hours, the devices should be used for the purpose of classroom instruction and not for personal activities such as web surfing, social networking, texting, or talking. While the BYOT contract is in place in the school, students must still adhere to the school code of conduct in regards to Internet usage in the handbook. As a way to keep the program monitored, administrators have incorporated rules and signs to help the students remember the reason for the devices in the building. Teachers have signs to display in their classrooms to determine when or if technology is used that day. In the lower grades, many of the signs are coded with common colors like green to say “using technology” and red to mean “no technology.” Glenn Andrews, Principal of Glenn Hills Middle School in Augusta, Georgia, stated that his teachers hang the signs on the outside of the door to “help the students transition between classrooms that use or do not use technology.” Some students still have trouble differentiating, he continued, because they have a hard time understanding that while bringing their own devices are allowed for educational purposes, they are still not to be used for “texting and web surfing during class or in the halls.”
There are many students who have opted to bring their own device, but there are still those who are not as fortunate to own a device as others. Because of this “digital divide,” many school districts have found that purchasing a class set is very beneficial to the school. Digital devices purchased by the schools are housed in a “mobile lab,” a cart that holds the devices with multiple power charging stations inside until they are ready to be used by a class.
In an article entitled “Educators Weigh E-Textbook Cost Comparisons,” Peter Cohen, the chief executive officer of U.S. Curriculum for Pearson, a Digital Textbook Collaborative member, acknowledged that “upfront costs for moving to digital content are prohibitive for many districts.” The article concludes that the best way to make digital devices more economical for all students is for the cost of the devices to come down considerably as more tablets come into the market. According to Christine McFadden, of the Follett Higher Education Group, in her article entitled “Are Textbooks Dead?,” she states that even though student interest and digital demand continue to rise, this will not be an overnight process. Publishing companies put together “enhanced print course materials [that] are digital replicas of printed textbooks or course materials,” McFadden continues. “As the future unfolds, cost will depend on factors including demand, campus licensing, partnerships with content providers, and the degree of customization.” McFadden closes by reminding educators, “although this product might be more expensive initially, the volume of sales should result in increased opportunity for lower unit costs.”
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