EDITORIAL: Schoolhouse tech is a fast trip, but to where?
Mar 17, 2013 (Florence Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Remember Sunday drives You'd get in the car and wind your way through the country. Perhaps there'd be a pit stop or side attraction or two -- a country store, a produce stand, a scenic lake. You engaged with your surroundings the entire trip and once you had reached your destination, you had a wealth of experiences from the entire day.
Today, though, more and more people forgo the countryside for a quick excursion on the interstates and bypasses. They certainly get you where you need to be faster. But they're also kind of ... sterile. The surroundings do not seem quite so warm. Instead of looking around us, we spend most of our time looking ahead.
School systems are on that same fast road these days, looking forward with high-speed plans to digitalize the classroom. Those initiatives are kicking into high gear all around the country, including South Carolina and the Pee Dee.
A recent Associated Press story reports that in many districts schools are rapidly moving toward supplying each student with their own tablet to replace multiple textbooks. Across the Pee Dee -- statistically, not a stronghold of technological advance -- schools administrators and district technology directors are looking longingly at the same prize. The coveted "one-to-one" model -- a tablet for every student -- is, they say, the gold standard of technology teaching.
It's a brave new world, and most see it is an exciting, innovative one. But it is now without its challenges and we worry that school systems are plunging in without knowing just how deep the water is.
First and foremost is cost. Because of the expense, most area districts and schools are wading into the world of wireless learning with classroom sets of iPads that are shared within schools.
Darlington officials are pondering a one-to-one model in about 10 percent of classrooms, while Trinity-Byrnes, a smaller, private school, is moving forward this fall with a hybrid purchase model where students can use their own devices, and the school will help those who can not, to procure one.
Florence 1 officials estimate purchasing an iPad -- and that is currently the tablet de jour for many school systems because of the depth of Apple's educational applications -- for every student in its system would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 per pupil.
Should a district manage to get on board, the breakneck speed in which technology is evolving makes us wonder if the tablet craze will still be the answer for our pedagogical woes. It changes quickly. Today's shiniest gadget is tomorrow's old news.
Technology is great, but it is no panacea. It's expensive to buy to begin with, and expensive to maintain and upgrade. Hardware upgrades throughout a school system -- powerful wi-fi for instance -- would be a challenge for all but the newest schools. It might be an impossibility in some buildings.
That said, the benefits of tablets are obvious. They are far more portable than a backpack of books and interactive texts can be updated constantly, allowing new discoveries and developments to be included in areas like science and history. E-text can bring videos, photo galleries and interactive maps and documents to the screen and can even allow for individualization in lessons. Technology excites kids and if you can dovetail that enthusiasm into learning, it can make for rewarding, enriching class time.
A higher degree of engagement is no doubt a good thing, but the level of stimulation could be difficult for a school system to manage, especially considering how much is unknown about this technology. With the ways in which digital gadgetry is integrating into our lives, its impact on young children has not yet been comprehensively studied and any lasting effects -- good or bad -- may not be known for years.
It is a bit troubling to us that schools are so willing to make this jump without even being able to conclusively point toward empirical research that says this is clearly the best path.
Older paths -- reading books, watching a presentation or documentary, listening to teachers, dictating notes -- all these activities engage different parts of the brain. It's why it's called the learning process. We internalize these different forms of stimulation and process them in our own ways to enrich our aptitude.
Tablet education takes the bypass, delivering all those experiences in one, 10.5-inch medium.
No doubt, the bypass can get you there quicker.
But sometimes the drive makes the destination that much more rewarding.
Unsigned editorials represent the views of this newspaper. Editorial board members are: Mark Blum (Regional Publisher), Tucker Mitchell (Regional Editor), Kimberly Ginfrida (Online Editor), John Sweeney (political writer), Rebecca Ducker (Visuals Editor), Matt Tate (News Editor) and David Johnson (Regional Circulation Director).
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