Sunday, September 15, 2013

Technology in a 21st Century Classroom

How important is it to include technology in today's classroom?

This question was recently examined by the New York Times which recently printed acritique of ipad education by Carlo Rotella, director of American studies at Boston College. Rotella, who himself doesn't even allow laptops into his university classrooms, set out to examine the effects, both positive and negative, of using tablets for students' class work, homework and educational games.

Rotella travelled to Guilford County, North Carolina, where the school district has embarked on an ambitious program that will provide all of this year's middle school students with a tablet device.  He spoke to district teachers and elearning facilitators and then moved on to speak to other individuals who are involved in online education in America' s schools. These included conversations with Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York Public School System and presently the head of the company that makes Amplify tablets, representatives of the United States Department of Education, educational research psychologists, experts on education and technology and even a neuroscientist specializing in the study of adolescent brain development.

Rotella admits that he is a skeptic of elearning, especially as it relates to elementary and young teen learners. But he noted the benefits of tablet learning which include:
·         Elearning makes personalization possible in the classroom. It provides the possibility for immediate feedback to both student and the teacher who can then make timely decisions about how to proceed with the lesson, when to work with individuals and when to work with groups, etc.
·         Entire units of curriculum can be loaded on the tablet in advance of a lesson or can be sent out as an instant update. This accommodates students as they work at their individual paces.
·         There is a wide variety of educational tools available for research, discussion, practice and demonstration of mastery to allow students to approach their studies from various angles. The teacher can then move into the role of a mentor who provides each student with individual assistance as needed
·          School districts spend less money on textbooks
·         eGames support personalized learning. Personalized learning matches game logic respond to what a player does. A game is arranged in series of increasingly difficult challenges to fit the sequencing of curriculum. (i.e. When you conquer the fractions level, you move up to the algebra level.)

One of Rotella's concerns related to the "discussion" aspect of tablet learning as opposed to real-time face-to-face conversations that would occur in a non-elearning class. As many teachers have discovered however, blended learning addresses this concern by incorporating elements of online learning with traditional frontal teaching, group activities and classroom interactions.   

Rotella examined tablet learning in a general format but for the Jewish classroom,elearning has many similar applications. Students can engage in core curriculum subjects such as gemorrah, chumash and Jewish history or may expand to explore subjects such as tikkun olam, Contemporary Jewish Issues, the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, varying Jewish communities and even questions about Basic Judaism through interactive online lessons. 

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