SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Classrooms are leaving behind the dust clapped off chalkboard erasers and moving toward virtual desktops and N-computing. However, library media specialist at Peace Dale Elementary Martha Badigian said technology in the classroom is just another tool for educating students and does not replace the traditional paper and pencil.
Within six to eight months, South Kingstown Schools Director of Technology Doug Snow said the district will have a virtual desktop or a common workplace area that students and teachers can log in to securely from any device they have. This will be a secure portal into the school network for students and teachers to access files. This one virtual desktop will act like a cloud environment, eliminating the need for servers for each school.
To be a forerunner of technology and get more machines into the classroom, Snow said South Kingstown schools will soon set up the system of N-computing. Snow said 10 computers can run off one PC. This system with a 10 year life cycle will phase out the laptop carts and allow for a one to one ratio of computers to students.
“The old days of every desk having a PC are gone. This will make schools more energy efficient,” Snow said. “It will reduce our footprint, but make us more efficient.”
Snow said N-computing will save the district money. Rather than purchase 10 $1,000 machines, they will only have to purchase one $1,000 machine. N-computing is funded through Schneider Electric. Snow said the department went out to bid for 975 of N-computing machines. Snow predicts that over Christmas every elementary school classroom will have one. The technology department has an annual budget of $400,000.
With the new technology, Snow is preparing the district for the future where filling in dots on test scan sheets will be obsolete.
Snow predicts server based type testing will take over in four to five years, where teacher evaluations and the New England Common Assessment Program will be taken online.
“It’s changed ten-fold. People don’t use paper. To us, it’s archaic now to think to use pen and paper,” Snow said. “These kids are unbelievably fast with the way they text and type. We can push them more because they can multitask.”
At Peace Dale Elementary School, librarian Martha Badigian has been teaching for 10 years and has seen firsthand the changes technology has had in education. She sees these changes as positively beneficial for a student living in today’s fast pace world, where they can combine traditional forms of learning with new tools.
“It’s so important. All librarians are very involved in technology. We’re all about information literacy. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the page or the screen. Technology is just where the world is today,” Badigian said.
During her teaching, Badigian is utilizing these technology tools to teach the same lessons she always taught.
“For me, technology is a tool like a pencil, but a really great pencil. We emphasize critical thinking skills no matter what the tool is,” Badigian said.
Like always, Badigian teaches students the use of the encyclopedia except now the World Book is in print and online. She said school librarians still teach the Dewey Decimal System, a system of library classification, but this system created in 1876 is now online too.
Badigian uses BrightLinks, a smart board or large computer screen to teach. Rather than glue and pasting paper to large poster boards, students now use GLOGS, a virtual poster board.
Students can now discuss books online through the school’s Battle of the Books, a library site where students blog about their readings.
Peace Dale Elementary School Principal Pauline Lisi said the schools use websites and technology as reinforcers for learning skills such as phoenix, math facts and spelling. She said students can now use Ninetendo DS in the classroom to submit answers to the online classroom.
She added that technology has become an assistive tool for students with special needs. For instance, students with difficulty speaking can use a tool to type what they want to say and a recorded voice speaks it out loud.
Badigian said technology in the classroom has not replaced handwriting or books.
“Handwriting is developmentally important. It still happens in the classroom. It’s not an either or. It is not that we’re abandoning writing. Technology has been an addition. The skills are the same,” she said.
To keep teachers who may not be as technologically savy as their students up to date, Lisi said teachers attend a two week workshop on technology in the classroom funded through the Rhode Island Teachers and Technology Initiative. RITTI was created in 1997 through Title II D federal funds.
With so much information at their hands, Badigian believes students now have it harder, having to access what is reliable information.
“Before, sources were fact-checked. We never questioned whether the information was reliable. Now, we’re teaching them how to find whether a website is credible,” Badigian said.
As they are about to enter 5th and 6th grade, Badigian said she emphasizes evaluating websites at the 4th grade level, teaching them the difference between blogs and wikis and different domains.
With technology becoming increasingly important, Badigian sees it as the schools job to educate students on the new tools.
“There is a digital divide. Some families have computers at home, others do not. We have to bridge that gap. Everyone needs a chance to get those basic skills going,” she said.