Another school year lies just ahead, with students thrilled to be back, their fingers flying over their mobile devices, reaching out to friends to share a summer’s worth of stories, pics and all.
And then there’s that learning thing.
For some educators, the focus for the 2011-2012 school year is to engage kids, create vibrant classroom discussions, and open minds. With iPads, iPhones and social networking tools at the ready, these teachers won’t be struggling to get students to stow gadgets after a summer of round-the-clock texting and web surfing.
One difference is StudySync, the web-based supplementary curriculum from BookheadEd Learning, LLC. StudySync uses mobile technology, social learning, compelling visuals and broadcast-quality video lessons, all based on a rich library of classic and modern texts, with the goal of encouraging reading, critical thinking, academic discourse and peer-to-peer collaboration.
According to several StudySync educators – a group comprised of a high school English teacher, a secondary school administrator and a university professor –a sea change is now under way, beginning with how technology in schools is being perceived and received. In an informal survey, these educators addressed three fundamental questions:
- Why incorporate technology and social media in the classroom?
- How can technology engage kids who are shy, uninvolved, or have simply “checked out” of school?
- How can technology get students to collaborate successfully?
“Fearing the integration of social media and technology is analogous to fearing allowing students to type rather than hand-write a paper,” said Ryan S. Gilbert, English Instructor, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, Bellafontaine, Ohio (rgilbert.wordpress.com). “This all part of an inevitable progression, and foolish to resist rather than to embrace.”
“We have to be very serious about our work, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be somber about it,” said Rick Fabbro, Assistant Superintendent, Surrey School District, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. “Teachers who view technology as a distraction are too focused on the technology. They should focus instead on the problem/issue that they are trying to resolve and see how technology will help with the resolution. It is not about ‘tweeting’—it is about communication to the masses.”
“The relatively new field of positive psychology is bringing to light the truth that whatever we like to do, we do more often,” said Dr. Lawrence Baines, Chair, Instructional Leadership & Academic Curriculum at the University of Oklahoma, Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education.
“Whatever we dislike to do, we avoid. A teacher who makes learning fun will have students showing up for school and asking for more; a teacher who makes learning insufferable will have students skipping classes or getting into fights to avoid contact with the subject and teacher. Making learning fun is no abstract platitude, but the essential task of the teacher.”
While technologies like electronic white boards have caught on in some school districts, mobile devices and social media have been a tougher sell. “There’s a saying by Confucius: ‘Call the dog when it is coming toward you, ’” Fabbro said. “Students are connected—that is the reality. It is our job as educators to find a way to engage them in their reality, to promote the deepest thought around important issues.”
“The environment of my school lends itself to the freedom of using social networking as a valuable learning tool,” Gilbert added. “The school uses a one-to-one laptop program. In addition, Facebook, Twitter and the like are used to engage students.”
According to Baines,“activities that are both enjoyable and intellectually-stimulating—the voluntarily, enthusiastic reading and discussion of literature, gaining knowledge of new vocabulary words—constitute real learning. A school day that is devoted to apathetic adherence to externally-mandated objectives is the distraction.”
Reaching the Reluctant StudentForward-looking educators are beginning to use technology to empower kids who are shy, uninvolved or have turned off to the classroom experience. “By offering kids a lower-pressure environment to exchange their ideas, technology can provide a voice to disenfranchised students,” Gilbert said.
“One of the strengths of technologies like cell phones is that they enable the student who rarely participates in class to engage at a safe distance,” Baines noted. “Chat, text, and message boards reduce the intensity of human interactions and give the communicator more control. That’s why so many students walk around staring at their cell phones rather than looking at where they are walking or conversing with the friend walking next to them.”
Acknowledging that getting kids to work together on projects can be a challenge, teachers are increasingly enlisting technology to foster collaboration.
“Collaboration is the key to the solution to real problems that face us today,” Fabbro said. “Students need to be working on real-life problems that are significant. Technology gives them access to the real world.”
“One of the challenges teachers encounter is trying to ensure that collaboration is equal among group members,” Baines observed. “The truth is that collaboration will never be equal among members of a group because individuals are differentially talented. Some are long-distance runners; some are sprinters; some throw the discus. The secret is in getting the individual members to perform at their utmost.”
“Both competitive and collaborative approaches have their place,” Gilbert said. “Technology can show students that their success depends upon one another. In my experience, students perform at higher levels when they are concerned with the opinions and engagement of their peer groups in addition to that of their instructor.”
That concept – that students can learn as much from one another as from the classroom teacher – is crucial to StudySync.
“StudySync tackles one of the biggest challenges facing educators today -- how to get students hooked on reading and writing,” said Robert Romano, founder and CEO of BookheadEd Learning. “Our allies in taking on that challenge are the full complement of digital devices. With StudySync, kids don’t need to check their iPhones, iPods, and iPads at the door; instead, they need to keep them on and humming. Today’s devices aren’t just cool – they can be teeming with lessons. After all, for your average ninth-grader, life is packed with distractions, many of them electronic. Given the din, any successful educational program must attract students with technology that is relevant and content that engages.”
About BookheadEd Learning, LLC
BookheadEd Learning connects high school and middle school students to the great ideas of mankind through technology, multimedia, and a rich library of classic and modern texts. StudySync (studysync.com), its flagship product, uses web-delivered educational tools – including broadcast-quality video, digital media, mobile platforms, and social networking —to help teachers inspire higher levels of students’ reading, writing, critical thinking, academic discourse and peer-to-peer collaboration. Based in Sonoma, Calif, BookheadEd is comprised of educators and experts who believe “Together We’re Smarter.”