Integrating technology into education
By Katherine Long
Thousands of Catholic educators from across the country gathered in Houston, Texas, April 2 to 4 for the 2013 National Catholic Educational Association convention, an annual meeting that brings teachers, principals, administrators and catechists together for discussion, workshops and speakers. A main focus at this year’s convention, said Diocesan Superintendent Christopher Mominey, was integrating technology into the classroom.
“Nationally, the conversation is around the integration of technology into education and shifting the focus from lecture-based, traditional classrooms to ‘flipping the classroom,’” said Mominey. Flipping the classroom, he explained, means “students are learning less through lectures in the classroom and more through active learning models provided by technology integration.”
Part of that conversation concerns “one-to-one technology” classrooms, where every student has a digital learning tool such as an iPad or a digital textbook, Mominey said. “The question there, of course, is how we go about funding those technologies,” he said. “We’re looking at whether the dollars we receive from the state for textbooks, hardware and software are eligible for digital textbooks and other digital learning atmospheres.”
Such topics have long been a part of the conversation at the local level, though.
“‘Educating the “digital native”’ is one of [the Catholic Schools Office’s] ‘five pillars,’” Mominey said. Along with providing a “21st-century Catholic identity, quality administration and instruction, sound fiscal stewardship and boldness in thinking,” schools in the diocese are committed to delivering the kind of technology-rich education students of the digital age want and need, Mominey said.
“Five years ago, we introduced the concept that we need to be intentional about educating the digital native,” he added. “In making that commitment, we’re positioning ourselves and our students for success.”
Such an education is necessary for today’s students, Mominey said, because “they were born into this digital culture. Studies show that [today’s] kids’ brains are developing differently than mine did. It’s nothing for them to be on a computer, listening to an iPod and carrying on a conversation at the same time. They need to be engaged in a different way than only the traditional lecture.”
Also, he added, students need to be competent, comfortable and skilled with technology in order to compete in today’s global marketplace. A 2006 study by Jill Casner-Lotto and Linda Barrington, “Are They Really Ready to Work? Employer’s Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce,” polled more than 400 U.S. employers and found “high school graduates are entering today’s workforce deficient in most of the 21st century knowledge and skills needed to achieve successful careers” (Ross, Morrison and Lowther, “Educational Technology Research Past and Present,” 2010). Classroom technology integration seeks to change that outcome.
In order to deliver on its digital promises, the Catholic Schools Office has focused on two initiatives. First was bringing the technology infrastructure of all school buildings “up to speed,” Mominey said. “We can roll iPads in, but they won’t work without wireless internet access in the classrooms.” According to Dominick Lisi, director of educational technology for Catholic schools, all schools have “gone through the process of redeveloping their network infrastructures to include wireless networks that will support 21st-century learning technologies.” Many classrooms now house interactive whiteboards as well.
The second initiative has been to train teachers in the use and implementation of emerging technologies. “The beauty of an iPad is that it’s intuitive,” Mominey said. “But it’s perhaps more intuitive for our students than for some of our teachers. We provide ample opportunities for our teachers to get that training.” For example, teachers from three Syracuse city schools — Blessed Sacrament School, Cathedral Academy at Pompei and Most Holy Rosary School — were trained last summer in iPad basics and apps for the classroom. Lisi said iPads are entering classrooms in schools around the diocese and are currently being used at Immaculate Conception School (IC) in Fayetteville, St. James School in Johnson City, Holy Cross School in DeWitt and Blessed Sacrament School. He also added that IC and St. Mary’s School in Cortland are looking at implementing iPads for all students in their upper grades next year.
In addition to developing a K-12 technology curriculum, the diocese has also implemented a cyber safety curriculum, which teaches students from kindergarten to eighth grade to use internet technologies safely and ethically.
“From our Catholic perspective, it’s not just the skill set, but also the mindset,” Mominey said. “We are teaching students how to be responsible cyber citizens. Technology can certainly be used for destruction, but we’re teaching kids to use technology, the great gift that God has given us, for the good of society.”
So what does a technology-integrated classroom look like? Are traditional techniques going the way of the typewriter? Are students’ eyes glued to glowing, hand-held screens?
That’s certainly not the case in Patrick Kinne’s twelfth-grade French class at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse. A recent visit to his classroom revealed a lesson that effectively mixed tried-and-true lecture and recitation with modern multimedia.
Kinne greeted the students in French, then prompted them to recite aloud a memorized prayer. The students rattled off the prayer with excellent pronunciation and emphasis. Student Stephanie Lasnicki later revealed that the class has to memorize a different prayer each marking period. In addition to distributing a text copy of the prayer, “Mr. Kinne makes recordings [of the prayers] and then emails them to us, so we can put them on our iPods. Being able to listen to them helps us learn them,” she said.
Next up was a video about the sewers of Paris, part of a continuing “Les Miserables”-themed lesson. The video, pulled up on Kinne’s laptop and projected in front of the class via the interactive whiteboard, made mention of the role of rats in managing the sewers. Kinne tested the students’ listening comprehension by asking them to explain how exactly the rats help. The students needed another pass at the snippet, so Kinne used a smart stylus to pull up the video controls on the whiteboard and “rewind” to the proper section. (The answer was “they eat trash.”)
The class also shared the high-tech way they take their “verb of the day” quizzes. Last year, Kinne received a grant to purchase “clickers,” hand-held devices that communicate with software on his laptop. Kinne presents the students with a set of multiple-choice questions; they then input their answers on the clickers and transmit their answers to Kinne. The software checks the answers instantly and sends back a score. Student Kelly Keenan said getting the immediate feedback has helped her learn the material better, and Kinne said he’s seen “the vast majority” of the quiz grades go up since implementing the clicker method.
Though he’s certain the traditional teacher-led classroom model will never go away entirely, Kinne says he’s excited to see how technology is changing the classroom and the students’ experiences.
“Something mundane, like conjugating verbs, has become interesting and fun through the use of interactive technology like the whiteboard,” Kinne said. “Before, kids loathed conjugation, but now they’re able to get involved with it, see the words changing. The way they respond to the technology is exciting and surprising.”
“Up until these whiteboards appeared, technology [in French class] was really just an overhead projector,” he continued. “Seeing the students’ excitement, how much they like using these technologies — there’s just no denying that the kids respond to being able to interact with the material. And the more you’re able to engage them, in the material and in the technology, the better you prepare them for the future.”