Aine’s Education Highlight: Technology in the Classroom

Posted on July 12, 2012

By PHENND Summer Intern Aine Sheehan

In my high school, the coolest thing technology wise that happened was when a teacher would put up a powerpoint presentation instead of an overhead projection to illustrate an important concept in geometry, or to write down ideas for what makes a good persuasive essay in English class. Computer classes were optional, and most teachers expected homework to be hand written when turned in, giving students suspect looks when anything not an essay was typed and handed to them.

But now it seems that in order to be successful in school you need smartboards, personal laptops for each student, and to be connected to everyone via the vast web of social media. My brother’s classroom is equipped with smartboards and fancy new projectors. I have never seen a smartboard in action, but it is apparently the new must have item for a successful teaching environment.

It’s not just the influx of hardware, but the growing prominence of online options too. The seems a boom in online education sites, like Khan Academy and Coursera where you can take classes offered by Princeton, Stanford, and University of Pennsylvania professors, allows a viewer to get an education for free and without leaving the comfort of their own home. It is even spreading to the K-12 level, with online Cyber Charter Schools. It makes me wonder if we are moving toward a new technology-based education where classrooms no longer fit into the equation.

Akilah Abdul-Rahman, a Bryn Mawr graduate, current Americorps VISTA with the University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia (UCCP) at Temple, and native of West Philadelphia, graduated from Pennsylvania Cyber, a cyber charter school.

She recounts her experience fondly, saying “PA Cyber launched me into a successful post-secondary experience and I am happy to be amongst the first classes of people who graduated from cyber schools” but recounting that she would change some elements in regards to the social side of the school saying, “ Making friends over the internet, friends that sometimes live 5 hours across the state and who I might not ever see face to face, was hard and I really missed the social interaction. I missed being apart of clubs and things like that.”

Overall, she was satisfied with her cyber school experience because it allowed her to work independently and be more active in regards to making relationships with teachers. She admired the opportunity it provided her parents when they were choosing high schools for her, because a cyber school allowed them the opportunity to give their child a good education without compromising their moral religious values. She would recommend online college classes for students who know how they learn best and are motivated enough to engage in their education without a structured system in place.

*Read more here: http://updates.phennd.org/2012/07/an-interview-with-akilah-abdul-rahman-a-west-philadelphia-native-talks-about-her-experience-as-a-graduate-from-pennsylvania-charter/

There seems to be pros and cons for each side of the cyber school argument, and it –like all education models– is not an alternative that works for everyone. However,  it will be interesting to see how the perception of cyber and online courses change especially with regards to the recent news surrounding Pennsylvania cyber charter schools. The shift from online options seems inevitable, but is the classroom element still a viable option as education moves toward a more tech savy future?

Another alternative to technology in schools is building your own. Former West Philadelphia High School teacher Simon Huger and now founder of the Sustainability Workshop –an alternative senior year model— originally created an after school program at West to engage students in math and science. The program grew into the Electrical Vehicle Team (EVX) where, “[they] built a full-size electric vehicle that outperformed top universities in the nation’s largest alternative fuel vehicle competition, the Tour de Sol. We went on to create the world’s first hybrid supercar: an awesome hybrid vehicle that was fast and environmentally friendly,” according to Simon Huger.

The team went on to win many contests, and were the only high school in the running for the $10 million Progressive Automotive X Prize. It seems like this program is doing more than having Philadelphia students build cars. It is enabling them, through usable and real technology, to become leaders and realize skills that they previously probably would not have uncovered if they did not have this experience with technology.

The implementation of technology in classrooms seems like it could branch off into two different directions: engaging students minds to solve real problems that can be implemented in the future, or having them stare at a computer screen and click the correct answers without being engaged in the material. Right now technology in the classroom seems to be at a tipping point. It is unavoidable that computers and the internet have become an essential part of education today, but how far will it go?

I wonder if teachers specifically in K-12 will have to learn how to incorporate effective means of using technology in their classrooms so that they provide students with more than playing an interactive game on the iPad but use it to engage students in active learning and development in ways traditional classroom skills can not.

What role does technology play in the classrooms you have worked with in Philadelphia? Do you see adding things like smart boards into a Philadelphia school as a positive addition, or a hindrance? Do you think any technology in a classroom is necessary?

What are college students already doing to help? Interested in getting involved?

  • Check out this previous PHENND article on how college students can get involved in technology at Temple University with the Temple Media Education Lab.
  • Want to help students in Philadelphia schools use media in a positive way? Become involved in the Urban Technology Project.
  • Did you know many people in Philadelphia do not have a home computer let alone the internet? Want to help bridge the digital divide? Check out Drexel’s Tech Serve program.
  • Interested in cutting edge media production with high school students? Check out the V-Media project at Temple University.
  • Want to get involved in the citywide promotion of free wifi hotspots, or get one for your after-school program? Check out the Free Library HotSpot program run by the Philadelphia Free Library.
  • Volunteer with the Center for Digital Inclusion at the People’s Emergency Center.

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