The year’s theme of “(Re) Inventing the Future of English” at the NCTE Annual Conference (#ncte13) in Boston certainly has relevance and implications for teachers of all disciplines and grade levels. As I have noted in past posts, the landscape of education is changing at a rate of speed that is matched by no other period in history. Educators are now questioning all “traditional” forms of teaching and learning and are benefiting from the professional growth that comes as a result of being connected with colleagues from around the world. Similarly, these same educators are now faced with a new generation of “21st century” students who are born into a connected and interdependent world that can be accessed at any time through the small devices that they carry in their pockets each day.
In Dobbs Ferry, we have done some “(Re) Inventing” of our own as we continue to reflect upon the question of how to best address the needs of students in the 21st Century. In doing so, we are moving to an environment that fully supports BYOD and are continuously on the lookout for new and innovative ways to leverage technology in an effort to enhance the educational experiences of all students. Our teachers are in many ways pioneers as they explore new ideas, implement new approaches, and ultimately redefine their own conceptions of teaching and learning.
As a somewhat natural “next step,” and with the help and vision of our Superintendent (@yolebrady), our school is preparing for a new 1:1 initiative for all students in grade 9. In deciding on the most suitable tool for high school students, our #EdTech committee piloted a variety of devices and came to consensus after considering the pros and cons that are associated with each. Though still in the early stages of the initiative, it was determined that the Chromebook seems to be the most logical and practical choice for students at the high school school level.
1) Practical Considerations: At first glance, the Chromebook has the look of a standard laptop. It has a 12.1-inch screen, a traditional keyboard, and opens and closes in the same way. But that’s pretty much where the comparisons end. The “web-based” Chromebook is extraordinarily light due to the absence of a standard hard drive and is also sleek in nature. This is critical for high school students who are already overwhelmed with large oversized textbooks and book bags that weigh more than they do. In addition, the Chromebook is inexpensive as compared to even the most modest laptops that are on the market.
2) Academic Considerations: While many of our students noted the value and benefits of using iPads as a primary device, they also noted that there is a connotation of “play” that is associated with iPads due to the thousands of non-educational apps that are available. Conversely, the Chromebook provides easy access to Google Drive and the growing number of educational apps that teachers and students are now using on a daily basis. Furthermore, the traditional keyboard and long battery life better serve the needs of high school students who use the device throughout an entire school day for word processing, searching the web, and the long list of other educational purposes.
3) Access to Google Drive: Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Chromebook is the ease in which students can access the internet and, more importantly, Google Drive. Though still in its early stages, Google Drive has already changed the way that we think about “sharing” and is now on the cusp of changing the way that we think about teaching and learning. Through the various Google Apps for Education that are available in Drive, teachers and students can collaborate in “real time” on various projects and classroom assignments. This feature not only challenges all traditional thinking of assessing student understanding, but also how we provide ongoing feedback to students beyond the “brick and mortar” classroom. @DobbsSciRes does this regularly as he provides feedback and guidance to students who are revising their research reports at all hours of the day on Google Docs. Google Drive also provides similar features through other apps that can be viewed as 21st Century answers to MS Office. This includes Google Slides (PowerPoint), Spreadsheet (Excel), and of course Docs (Word).
4) “The Cloud”: This once seemingly abstract concept has now single-handedly changed the way that we think about accessing, saving, and sharing information. In the old days, files and documents were saved to a hard drive on a local computer or a laptop. Transferring or sharing these files would require that we email them to another person (or ourselves) or save them to an easy-to-lose flashdrive. No more. By saving all information to “the cloud,” all files can be easily accessed on any device wherever there is internet access. With this concept in mind, the Chromebook was designed to allow users to quickly and easily access the web and their important files. Essentially, the files are available wherever you go. This is critical for students as they can now access all documents from home or in school (or anywhere) while enjoying a virtually limitless amount of storage space.
5) The CCSS: All of the talk these days seems to be around the new CCSS and the degree to which schools across the nation have made “the shift.” Among the many “college and career readiness” targets that our outlined in the CCSS, there is a shared expectation that students will use technology to produce, publish, interact, collaborate, and evaluate different forms of digital media. To further this point, the NCTM remarked that “unless technology is woven throughout these standards, the credibility of any claim that they will better prepare students in the 21st century is diminished.” Given these demands and expectations, the Chromebook provides easy access to databases, journal abstracts/articles via the “research tool,” and a variety of additional educational apps that are designed to enhance understanding and overall capability.
As we enter the first phase of this new initiative, we do so with the expectation that we are sure to encounter limitations and that there may be some bumps in the road. This is a given whenever we challenge existing paradigms and seek to “(Re) Invent” what we do based on the ever-changing needs of our students. Though exciting and sometimes scary, it is necessary at times to step out of the comfort zone, take the leap, and meet students where they are. It’s what the best teachers have been doing since the beginning of time and is what the teachers that I am fortunate to work with continue to do each day.