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Oct. 16, 2014

Tableting to the future

by Robert Pfefferle, Online Sports Editor
Last summer, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) announced a new technology initiative, which plans to deliver 40,000 tablets to every school in the county. The plan is for students in grades three, five and six, as well as high school social studies classes, to use the laptops and tablets. The initiative's goal is to provide "anywhere, anytime access" to tools and resources for students and staff. Although some disagree, MCPS has the right idea. However, the arrival of the tablets is long overdue and insufficient: MCPS should add tablets to students of every class and grade level.
Tablets are just making their way to county schools, and it's already time for more. Courtesy of The Tablet Authority
Tablets are just making their way to county schools, and it's already time for more.

As the tablets make their way to schools in Montgomery County, students across the country that been using tablets for years have been learning more material faster, as well as understanding the concepts better. According to the U.S. Department of Education, technology-based instruction can reduce the time students take to reach a learning objective 30-80 percent. In many MCPS schools today, teachers rely on Promethean boards to teach. When the Promethean boards were added to schools, they were a big step up from chalkboards and whiteboards because they allowed teachers to integrate pictures, videos and websites into their lessons. Adding tablets to schools puts those lessons directly into the hands of the students. A Public Broadcasting Service survey found that 81 percent of teachers from kindergarten to twelfth grade believe that tablets enrich education.

Blair principal Renay Johnson is fully supportive of MCPS's initiative, but she acknowledges that teachers need to be educated on how to use the technology first. "I think in order for us to be 21st century schools, we have to embrace technology, but we also have to give staff members professional development, so that they know how to teach it, because quite frankly, a lot of kids know more than the staff with technology or social media and gadgets and those things," Johnson said.

On top of adding laptops and tablets, MCPS plans to add other mobile technologies and cloud-based learning systems to classrooms, which will allow students to do a variety of things. For example, teachers will be able to "screencast" lessons for students to view at home to help them with schoolwork, which lets students keep up with the lessons if they miss class. The new technology could also allow students to interact with and get assistance from their teachers at home.

Integrating tablets into classrooms is also going to reduce the amount of paper that teachers use, which will save schools money and ultimately help the environment. According to Edutopia, a school about the size of Blair spends up to $32,000 a year on paper and printing materials, and a school with 100 teachers uses about 250,000 pieces of paper annually. Apply those numbers to a report by the Sierra Club, and a school like Blair is cutting down a little more than one tree per year. Doesn't seem that bad, right? Now apply those numbers to MCPS and its 199 schools. Every year the county is cutting down about 200 trees for paper, which is two entire forests. Using tablets in schools would decrease these annual costs, and ultimately decrease the number of trees being cut down each year.

The glaring downside to all these technology upgrades is the cost. These laptops and tablets that MCPS is deploying aren't cheap: they're going to cost the county around $15 million. If MCPS increased the numbers of laptops and tablets, there's no doubt that the costs would begin to seem monstrous. However, the costs are worth it. "At every workplace, college, university, the expectation is that kids already have 21st century technology skills, so if we're not on board with that, kids will be going to college with a deficit," Johnson said. As the use of tablets increase, need for paper and printing materials would decline, and e-textbooks would replace physical textbooks. That money saved could be used to make up for the cost of the tablets. Ultimately the cost would still seem huge, but if tablets are improving the quality of learning, that makes the costs worth it in the long run.

One of the main purposes of our nation's schools is to teach students skills to prepare them for life beyond school. It is now 2014, and the world is fully reliant on technology in almost every aspect of our lives. MCPS's initiative to add 40,000 tablets is a good start, but tablets in every classroom should be the goal.



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  • HLee on October 17, 2014 at 10:31 PM
    I'm all for saving paper and trees, but it seems like there is another "glaring downside" to all this - the fact that, at this pace, there will soon be a generation that does not know how to handwrite, how to put pencil to paper, how to appreciate the depth of a good book. Instead, it will consist of people to whom a book or a diary or a letter is something from another world, to whom spending time and effort on a task is something to be ridiculed and feared. We embrace technology as being convenient, cheap, productive. But at what cost? You may say that the generation will not appreciate pencils and paper because they have no need to. But there is value in doing something that requires effort, for an action is only worth the amount of thought gone into it.

    And there is something inherently disturbing about raising children who do not use any paper and instead rely solely on electronics, something which can go very wrong very quickly. Am I the only one who is chilled when looking upon a classroom full of little children staring into their iPads like automatons? Am I the only who is bothered by that common sight of adults staring into their iPhones on the shuttle, all busily moving fingers in the name of communication? Am I the only one who is annoyed when friends constantly send Snapchats to other friends while supposedly hanging out with you? (I've always wondered, then what do they do when they're with those friends they Snapchat all the time? Snapchat OTHER friends?)

    Not to mention that this new generation will be one inundated with superficial images and sounds instead of words, which require, at the very least, a minimal degree of thought to employ. Look at us even now. We are a generation that has a rapidly declining appreciation for books and words and pencils and things that help develop our humanity. And this makes us more controllable and more superficial than ever.

    Everything in the world requires balance. Let's embrace technology, but also constantly be wary of its flaws. It seems like we will never learn from our mistakes.
  • HLee on October 17, 2014 at 10:41 PM
    But what I really wanted to say is -
    Introducing tablets to high schoolers seems like a rather reasonable compromise. By then, we (mostly) are mature enough to know how to use them, and hopefully have already been ingrained with enough exposure to pencil and paper that we are able to have some sort of balance. However, I disagree with introducing the tablets to third (third!), fifth, and sixth graders. The new technology takes away their opportunity to become used to things that take time and effort, and sets them up for a life in which they expect ease and rapid execution of tasks - they will lose important qualities like patience and the ability to slow down and appreciate the deeper parts of life. Even now, we are impatient when the Internet takes slightly longer than usual to buffer, or when our phones seem to be more sluggish than usual!

    It's a different thing to be raised with ease than to be raised with lack of it and later discover that there are alternative, more productive ways to do the same task. We may become used to the alternative technology, but at least we won't forget how to write our name with a graphite, No. 2 pencil.
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