MOUNT VERNON — One of the challenges in education today is to prepare students for jobs in a technology-oriented economy and concurrently to use technology to increase academic achievement.
Ohio’s State Educational Technology Plan, created by the eTech Ohio Commission as a requirement of HB 1 of the 128th General Assembly, discusses those challenges and offers some solutions. The plan further states that today’s learners, which the plan calls “Digital Natives,” use technology in profoundly different ways than previous generations and adds that the cell phones that students carry have more sophisticated technological features than many of their classrooms.
From using interactive whiteboards to providing online supplemental instruction to offering fully online courses, area schools are taking steps to meet the challenges of the digital age and increasing what is known as e-learning opportunities.
“Using technology allows us to engage our students in new ways, preparing them for a lifetime of improved learning,” explained Danville’s elementary school principal Lynn Shoemaker. “It helps us teach our students new technologies to better prepare them for future careers. Collaborative technologies allow our students to develop networks of learning. It allows us to reach students who learn in different ways. Providing technology at the school also allows students access [to technology] who may not have access at home.”
Danville and Fredericktown have several programs which could be considered to fit into the e-learning category. The programs are designed to improve reading and reading comprehension skills, and supplement other classes.
One advantage of such programs is the possibility for individualized instruction that allows students to learn at their own pace.
“The students involved get one-on-one personal attention through the use of the computer programs because the programs keep track of the students’ learning and achievement,” said Fredericktown Technology Coordinator Marialice Kollar. “In many cases, the students are supervised by an aide so that they are not just working on the computer by themselves. If students are absent, some of the programs allow for home access.”
“Technology helps us meet individual student styles,” Shoemaker added, “by altering the learning experience for hands-on learners, visual learners, using collaborative efforts for group learning, targeting students who need more challenge and helping struggling students learn better.”
“One of the programs we use was made available to students for summer use,” Kollar said. “And of course, some students were over-achievers while we also had some students who didn’t even touch it. As with any program, if students and their parents take learning seriously, students will achieve and if they do not, it is a disappointment to those people who are involved with the process.”
Kollar said e-learning can be time-consuming, depending on the individual needs of each student. It can also be somewhat expensive.
“It is costly because the programs are not just bought [once],” she said, “but updated often and renewed each year.”
Other technology Fredericktown uses to help students include electronic whiteboards, online textbook supplemental topics and lessons, math and language arts CDs and practice programs to supplement the normal classroom instruction. That technology is used in other area schools and, as in the case at Danville, iPods and digital cameras are also employed as instructional aids.
Mount Vernon City Schools, the Knox County Career Center and East Knox have expanded their utilization of network capabilities by offering a number of online courses.
Mount Vernon also hosts an E-Learning Center to provide online classroom-related resources for students and professional development opportunities for faculty and staff.
MVHS science teacher Steve Farmer, who uses the E-Learning Center for his Biology I class, said it is a valuable teaching and learning aid.
“I believe this serves as a great resource for my students,” he said. “It allows me to integrate technology into my lessons by having students respond to forum questions online, by taking online quizzes and watching video clips. The nice thing is that all this can be done off site anywhere the students are, and any time, as long as they have an Internet connection.
“I think it is beneficial for all students in my class. The students have access to class notes and Web sites that I have uploaded, as well as a calendar of events and daily assignments. I think it’s nice that if a student needs more review time than allowed in a class period, they have the option of going home to review those resources. I’ve been able to upload videos of my lectures for students who were absent, giving them the chance to hear/see the things that went on in class that particular day.”
Farmer said using the E-Learning Center is time consuming to begin with, but becomes less so.
“This is the third year I’ve used it,” he said, “and I have been able each year to build on previous years and add new content, rearranging or deleting others. It can be as complex or basic as the teacher wants it to be to serve his/her students.”
Shoemaker agreed that the time commitment varies depending on the technology in use.
“Professional development and preparation of lessons are the most time consuming steps in the process,” said Shoemaker.
A separate page set up just for the MVHS science department, said Farmer, gives the teachers a nice way to collaborate and discuss classroom ideas, labs and so forth without having to meet face-to-face.
“Once again,” he added, “it can be done off campus if needed.”
Information for this article was also provided by Sheri Brokaw, Danville’s technology coordinator.