For students and parents of Cazenovia School District, technology is an everyday tool.
Parents track attendance and grades with the online system PowerSchool. In 2011, the school purchased 40 iPads with federal stimulus dollars. Teachers use smart boards — interactive white boards — and podcasts to supplement their lectures.
“Our job is to prepare students for the next step in life,” said Robert Dubik, the Cazenovia Central School District superintendent. “We certainly know that technology is the future and we need to embrace it.”
That attitude has put the Cazenovia School District on the cutting edge of what’s possible — and of the controversy around technology’s role in education.
Nationally and locally, educators, parents, students and taxpayers are struggling with how — and whether — to use technology in the classroom. The major problem educators and communities are now facing is how to measure good use and success. At the heart of the debate is whether technology strengthens education or is merely window-dressing.
Among the skeptics of smart boards and iPads in the classroom are the 160 Waldorf private schools, which focus on educational basics. Waldorf private schools limit technology in their classrooms until around 8th grade, said Patrice Maynard, leader of outreach and development for the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.
“There was a prejudice cultivated in our culture that you need a computer to learn,” Maynard said. “This was a ridiculous premise. Technology has a place as a tool not as a substitute for human intelligence or a teacher.”
By 11th grade, Waldorf students are taught computer science classes, research methods and ethics and other technology uses. “The idea is to push the tool to get what you want out of it. It’s an empowering approach,” she said.
Some advocates see technology in high schools as essential for preparing young people for higher education and employment. And others argue that technology also enhances student learning and gives students more opportunities for creativity.
Creativity, interactivity and global communication are among technology’s benefits, said Marilyn Plavacos Arnone, professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. She calls for using technology starting in kindergarten. That, she said, “opens up new avenues of expression for student creativity and affords a way to address individual differences.”
Arnone suggests success can be measured by observing children to see if they are immersed, enthusiastic, collaborative, curious and motivated.
Gerald Edmonds, Syracuse University education professor who works with high school teachers to integrate technology, agreed. He is director of SU’s Project Advance, which gives high school teachers tools including hardware, software, Internet access or training to use any of it.
“Giving students access to those tools will get them familiar with technology as a part of higher education,” he said.
In Cazenovia, parent David Eilers praises the school system’s emphasis on technology for exactly that reason. “I just think it’s good prep for the next step,” said Eilers. His daughter’s technological transition to college, he said, was “seamless.”
Another Cazenovia parent, Levi Spires, captures technology’s dilemma. He has two children in the district. He is the vice president for an Internet start-up. But even coming from his field, he said, he sees a downside to technology.
“There is a lot to be learned from doing something hands on,” Spires said. “There’s nothing wrong with technology, but it has to be good use.”
(Julie McMahon is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)
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