The Technology Transformation

It was not that long ago that “Computers” was just one class that students took much like History, English, or Biology. With the explosion of smartphones, tablets, and light but powerful laptops, computers have become ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives, which has had a direct impact on teaching and learning.
Beginning in Kindergarten, all students still take courses that teach specific computer and software skills, but the reach of technology now extends well beyond the walls of one class period. Just like at work and at home, technology has become woven into the culture of the school. Each high school student (and soon seventh and eighth grade students as well) uses an iPad in his or her classes. Smartboards are used in classes at every grade level. Starting in fifth grade, students use web-based software to turn in assignments and manage their workload. The list goes on and on.
This transformation of the use of technology has come as part of an overall trend in how technology works. Technology in our broader world has moved away from a primarily broadcast model to a point-to-point and response model. Think of the passivity of television - a company creates a signal and sends it out to homes that people consume versus the use of website in which information exists on a site, but changes and moves based on how the viewer interacts (clicks) throughout the page. Even older technologies like television are moving their model as more programs are watched on devices that allow the viewer to influence the content that is displayed, like choosing the type of ad they prefer or allow a service to suggest a program of interest based on feedback given by the viewer.
This transformation has an impact on teaching. Fundamentally, education is still about the exchange between teacher and student. The newest, flashiest devices cannot replace human-to-human interaction, but they do provide new tools for teachers that can increase efficiency and allow for more depth of academic exploration. Dynamic technology enhances the multidirectional and responsive nature of learning that strengthens the teacher-student relationship.
Technology is still growing and changing at a rapid pace, which leaves us constantly evaluating our own equipment, process and methods. We never want to invest time or resources into technology for the sake of technology. We are looking for technology that improves our ability to teach and that gives our students more useful tools for learning. Our Dean of Faculty, Arvind Grover, is fond of saying, “We need technology that is powerful.”
To this end, the GCS Technology Program has invested heavily in technological solutions that improved the experience of students and kept our systems in line with the best practices available. This has meant replacing old methods with newer practices, including: moving away from lab-based technology instruction to integrated technology in each classroom; mobile devices like iPads and Macbook Airs have replaced teachers’ desktop computers to increase their ability to stay connected for online homework assignments and communications; personal devices have decreased the need for floating laptop carts; and curbing one-time purchases in favor of systems that use annual maintenance fees.
Under the leadership of Director of Technology, Dr. Akbar Ali Herndon, the Technology Program has also recognized the value in the digitization of many old educational standards like textbooks and white boards. These resources make our educational tools more fluid, keeping content current, providing resources never before available, and are more efficient to produce and reuse.
Along with this is the need to embrace the various tools that the Internet provides. As the web continues to evolve and change, our thinking and practices around it must also change. We are implementing a plan to increase educationally sound use of web tools like email, video sharing sites, social media networks, and even gaming. For example, the Dean of Student Life has created a Facebook Group to communicate with ninth and tenth grade students about student activities, and the Middle School and High School newspapers are developing a tablet app to deliver their content to the student body. We are currently building a new website, which will help us harness many of these tools into one integrated online community.
The use of new technology has created several exciting opportunities for students that, even a few years ago, would have seemed impossible as part of specific courses. This spring high school students will have the opportunity work with 3D printers to animate and print objects. In Spanish classes, students are using a program called Voice Thread to have conversations in Spanish with other Spanish students around the world. English courses are creating iBooks as part of their writing assignments. Students are making full-length documentaries and recording demo CDs as part of their special independent study projects. This is just the beginning.
We are developing students who are prepared to solve real-world problems with the best tools available. However, these new tools mean that students have more access to information and data than ever before and greater independence for problem-based learning. This requires that we create an academic environment where the use of technology is safe and the distractions are minimized to ensure maximum return on our technology investments. Our approach to this task will continue to be one that blends tradition with innovation – building on our established success while infusing new ideas and methods.
One of the objectives of our technology program is “to foster the greatest level of digital literacy and skill,” which will require that we continue to evaluate the ways that we must change to maintain best practices. Our technological transformation will never reach a conclusion, which means we will need to consistently engage our entire community in ongoing learning, which we think is a very good thing.