CHICAGO — Pencils, notebooks, calculators, folders … tablets?
The modern school-supply list has evolved from when parents of today’s schoolchildren were growing up. With mobile technology becoming more and more ubiquitous, the classroom is no exception as teaching methods continue to evolve.
“With the release of the (Apple) iPad in 2010 and the rise of more affordable laptop devices like (Google) Chromebooks, we have definitely seen an increase in most students’ access to technology in the classroom,” says Damian Bebell, an assistant research professor at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College who has studied the effects of technology on the learning process. “It’s fairly common today for many students to be using technology as a productivity tool or to access resources to supplement the curriculum.”
How common, exactly?
According to a survey of nearly 2,300 students in the U.S. in grades four through 12, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of learning materials and technology provider Pearson, 58 percent of all students surveyed have used a tablet for schoolwork while 83 percent have used a device such as a laptop, notebook or Chromebook.
“In our research, we see that technology is increasingly used by teachers in their instruction (such as showing multimedia or finding examples online), as well as by students for note taking, finding resources and information online, keeping online calendars, and creating products like papers or multimedia,” Bebell says.
Not only are students using these devices, but a number of school districts have themselves begun handing out Chromebooks and iPads to students, so that teachers are able to more effectively integrate the technology into their curriculum.
School districts such as Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Naperville Community School District 203 are issuing mobile devices to students so that they can have access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are having teachers incorporate the devices into their lesson plans. District 211 began issuing iPads to all 13,000 of its students several years ago, while District 203 began giving out Chromebooks to all 6,500 of its high school students last school year and will issue those same devices to all students from the junior high level on up this school year.
This, in and of itself, presents both educators and parents with challenges.
“The challenge for distraction can be large any time you put any type of digital device into a student’s hands,” says Scott Weidig, technology coordinator at Schaumburg High School in District 211.
To limit those distractions, school districts that issue mobile devices employ any number of safeguards, from filtering the kind of sites and contents students can view through the school’s network to not allowing students to access social media such as Facebook and Twitter on their school-owned devices.
“If you think about driver’s education, you don’t just hand a student a car and say go,” Weidig says. “We limited the devices where they weren’t able to access social media. We modified the device itself to, in essence, have a kind of learner’s permit. We implemented, across the district, an online digital citizenship course that our students need to move through to have some of those communication capabilities opened up to them.”
“Whenever a student logs into this Chromebook, it only can connect to our network to get on to the internet,” adds Roger Brunelle, chief information officer for District 203. “So (students) might be at home, and they would be on their parents’ Wi-Fi, but as soon as they get on, it’s going to come here to our district office and go through our internet connection. We have software that filters these devices when they’re not in a school building.”
Brunelle says Naperville uses a filtering tool called Securly, which allows parents to better keep track of their kids’ usage of school-owned devices.
“They will have access to know what websites their students have gone to, and the tool also has the ability to scan for certain aspects of things like cyberbullying,” Brunelle says. “The tools in the marketplace have reached the point of maturity that there are a lot of things that a school district can and should put in place to make sure that it’s not all the onus on the parents to monitor on a school device.”
Monitoring school-issued devices is one thing. Monitoring other ways that children access the internet, such as through personal tablets or smartphones, is another.
“This is a delicate balance where every parent has to decide how engaged and involved they’re going to be,” Brunelle says, “until you have some evidence that your students are becoming good digital citizens, a little more care and caution, and having a good conversation with them on what’s expected of them in terms of good internet behavior.”
Weidig says one of the biggest concerns he hears when talking to parents in his district is that students can’t seem to untether themselves from their devices.
“The biggest concern they have is the screen time, that idea of I’d love for my child to use it until 10 o’clock at night, but starting at 11 o’clock, I’d really like them to not be on it because students might be responding at 2 o’clock in the morning or interacting with other people,” he says.
To combat that, Weidig and Brunelle say, parents would be wise to educate themselves on the safeguards offered by their internet service providers.
“Most of the internet (service) providers themselves offer filtering and restrictions that you can set right at the router level,” Brunelle, himself a father of college-aged children, says. “I have Comcast at home. I can go into my Comcast logon, and I can set warnings and usage limits by time of day, specific devices that can and cannot connect.”
“Start learning features of your router and how the connectivity works in your home, and then you can set limitations in your home,” Weidig adds.
But experts say the technology itself can only do so much, and if kids are going to get the most out of the devices they’re using from an educational perspective, parents need to pay close attention, so that their kids know how to do so.
“Our first recommendation to them is get involved,” Weidig says. “Don’t be intimidated. We encourage our parents to sit down with your child, let them show you what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”