From note-pads to iPads, teaching goes high-tech

Feb. 9, 2011, 12:20 p.m. | By Simrin Gupta | 12 years, 9 months ago

New developments should prompt schools to think about incorporating technology in the classroom

Few students remember the last time they hauled out a dictionary to look up a word. Even fewer remember an instance where they had a question that Google couldn't answer. Gone are the days when the twenty-pound textbook was the best resource. Thanks to the emerging technology of e-readers and tablets, anyone can be privy to a plethora of information with just the click of a button or the tap of a screen. Teachers across the nation have finally begun to capitalize on that concept within our classrooms. It's high time that MCPS do the same.

Because of their high educational value, schools are beginning to realize that e-readers and tablets are the technology that will usher in a new era for education. Although the iPad is one of the more pricey tablets on the market, it presents users with a variety of options other tablets don't. The device allows users to surf the web, run simultaneous applications, read books and create professional-looking presentations. The infamous iPad isn't the only grade-A gizmo out there, though. Samsung's Galaxy tablet, the Eee Pad, the Kno tablet and the Acer tablet are all worthy competitors with roughly the same features. All these models have LCD screens that display colorful graphics, videos, games and other multifunctional devices that positively effect a student's learning experience.

The devices are designed to help students engage with subjects better by using technology they're already familiar with. The software presents concepts in multi-media formats so students can take in information in different ways. New York City public school students have already benefitted from this idea after the school system ordered more than 2,000 iPads, costing the board about $1.3 million.

MCPS' neighbor, the University of Maryland, has also joined the iPad revolution. The university gave out 60 iPads to students enrolled in the Digital Culture and Creativity program as part of the university's Mobility Initiative, a pilot program analyzing the effects of mobile technology on the student education experience.

The results of the program have indicated that device enhances the classroom learning experience while helping students manage their time. The iPads also allow students to quickly access announcements, documents and discussion boards, which has had a profound impact on student participation.

Junior Cindy Kang, who brings her iPad to class, has found that the device has improved her educational experience. Kang said that the best App for student-use is called Notebook. She uses it daily to take notes and make charts, graphs and visuals. "The iPad is really capable of doing anything," she said. She said the iPad's multi-dimensional aspect helps her gain a fuller understanding of any given topic.

Similar to tablets, though they have limited functions, e-readers have caught educators' attention as well. Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook and Sony's e-reader all have the capability to display digital books, periodicals and textbooks using e-ink technology. These devices completely eliminate the need for traditional textbooks in schools.

Textbooks and other instructional supplies account for 2 per cent of MCPS' annual budget. Though it may not seem like a significant percentage, 2 per cent translates into thousands of dollars that could be better spent. If school systems started phasing out paper textbooks for their electronic equivalents, the change would eliminate school expenses. E-readers are not only a less expensive option, they also provide a more interactive learning experience. Tablet companies like Apple and Amazon have already teamed up with textbook publishers to create instructional programs that allow students to listen to text as they read, make notes, highlight text, look up words, bookmark pages and adjust font sizes. The Apple App store alone gives students access to over 10,000 e-textbooks through a third-party company called CourseSmart.

The other major benefit of e-textbooks is that they can be updated quicker and more easily than printed texts, without the need for re-printing - a process that that would certainly appease those outraged about the historical errors in Virginia's textbooks. MCPS should consider embracing the digital textbook revolution that would lighten backpacks everywhere, particularly for the environmental benefit of paper conservation.

At a time when school districts are struggling to stay within their budget, spending money on tablets or e-readers may seem like an extravagance. In reality, introducing these tools could be a fruitful investment for schools and students. In the past, Montgomery County has never been one to forgo the latest in educational technology, Promethean Boards being a prime example. As every generation becomes more tech-savvy, making the switch to digital textbooks and embracing new educational software will finally ensure that students and teachers are on the same page.

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