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Social Capital
Deliberate Progress
I had the privilege of sitting on a student and faculty panel that spent time with members of the Board of Trustees on Friday, discussing a variety of topics, but allowing most of the conversation to settle around the role of technology in the classroom.

One trustee asked the group of four faculty members and five students, "Do you think technology benefits or hinders your ability to focus in classes?" This is a question that is not new, nor is it one that only we are asking here at Proctor. The NY Times published this article last week discussing technology's impact on the attention span of students. The study referenced is one of the first that focuses on the impact of more technology in the classroom on teachers and their ability to capture and retain students' attention. One teacher notes, "I'm an entertainer. I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention…What's going to happen when they don't have constant entertainment?"

A few students and faculty echoed these hesitations around more technology in the classroom during Friday's panel discussion. Mikayla, a four-year senior, eloquently discussed her resistance to technology, "When I read a book, I develop a relationship with that book that I could never develop with technology. My margin notes are there forever and I have something physical to manipulate as I learn." Karin, a veteran English teacher, offered similar hesitations, "I see technology infiltrating so many aspects of our lives and I wonder if we lose some of the personal connections with our work, our students, and others in the community because of technology." These comments are valid, valuable and provide perspectives that help guide how we implement new technologies on campus.

However, a different view is also provided by another teacher in the aforementioned article, "What we're labeling as 'distraction', some see as a failure of adults to see how these kids process information…The label of 'distraction' is a judgment of this generation." While we know that technology in the classroom can be distracting; teachers in the panel discussion on Friday noted this and trustees acknowledged that they could not imagine trying to teach to a class of fifteen students hiding behind their laptops or iPads, we must also take into account how digital natives learn most effectively.

The reality is that teaching methods with which we are most comfortable may not always adapt well to advances in technology. As we shift to an iPad program next year, we, as teachers, will need to critically evaluate HOW we are teaching our students. There is a time for technology free lessons or classrooms, but can we shift to student-led exploration of content through the use of iPads and ebooks? Technology will augment the impact of much we do in the classroom, but may also challenge us to further develop our teaching methodologies and to take a step out of our comfort zones as educators to explore new ways of teaching.

Ian, an eleven year veteran in the science department and chair of the Harassment Committee on campus contributed the following to the conversation with trustees, "I have been hesitant to use new technology, like my SMART board, because my students learn well without it, however, after I was pushed by my department head to stretch myself, I realized the benefits that specific technology can have for my students. I just want to be careful that we don't allow the tail to wag the dog in terms of technology, and that we make sure whatever our next step is with technology, that it is best for our students."

I followed Ian's comment by noting, "As we introduce new technology and think to the future about how technology integrates into our classrooms, we must continue to ask the question, 'What is the most effective way to teach our current students?' Through this lens, our adoption of new technology in the classroom will be deliberate, informed, and will allow our students to be the most effective learners they can be."

Will an iPad or technology be the answer to every issue we have with teaching? Absolutely not. Will some classes spend time away from technology? I hope so. Will we still have some students for whom the physical manipulation of a textbook is best giving their learning style? Most likely given our diverse study body of learners. Will the adoption of new technology on campus have hiccups along the way? Absolutely. However, iPads force us to further develop our teaching practices to better serve a new generation of learners and this is important for us to consider as a school.

If the we, as a learning community, are intentional about how we implement technology, the transition to iPads can be a smooth one. Providing training and support for faculty who may be more hesitant to experiment with new teaching methods and ensuring our students know how to appropriately use the technology we give them are an absolute must, as they were when we transitioned to a 1:1 laptop program in 2001. Change can be very difficult, but if we view technology not as replacing what we do well, but rather helping us do what we do well, better, our relationship with technology will be a healthy one. 

We take away much from our conversation last Friday, and as Head of School Mike Henriques reflects, "The conversation was incredibly valuable for all involved, and reinforced our need to be very intentional in explaining how and why we will continue to move forward with technology at Proctor." We are thankful for the desire of our Board of Trustees to engage with students and faculty around educational issues!
As with any new program, the implementation of a campus-wide iPad initiative for next year has brought to the surface some hesitation among students and teachers.
We know that technology will never replace some of what we do, like this painting by Derek!
But technology, like the survey device above, open up new opportunities for students to explore their world.
Moving forward deliberately, ensuring we hear the voices of dissent and address their concerns is a critical part of implementing any new program, whether related to technology, or not.
In the end, our goal is to allow our students to have the best possible learning experience. Finding the right role for technology in that experience is an important process for Proctor to embrace and we look forward to doing so over the coming years.
What is most encouraging about technology at Proctor? The simple fact that we engage in conversations with those technology impacts in an effort to guide our next step.