Special Report: Growing Up Digital

By: Caroline Vandergriff Email
By: Caroline Vandergriff Email

From Androids to iPads, mobile devices are everywhere, and that means kids growing up today will never remember a time without them.

More and more school districts are working to incorporate the technology students use in their everyday life, into the classroom. Grand Ledge Public Schools is embracing the trend by putting an iPad in the hands of every kindergarten student.

Watching Marlene Promer's class at the Neff Kindergarten Center in Grand Ledge might seem like a glimpse into the future, but it's the reality in many of today's classrooms.

"It's a new way of thinking," Promer said. "How can I do one more thing a certain way so the kids can stay engaged, and still get everything we need to do and teach across to them in an exciting way."

To prevent the high-tech gadgets from becoming a high-level distraction, teachers have to keep the focus on the curriculum.

"Just like everything else we give them, they're excited and want to learn it," Promer explained. "And you have to teach them this is what we're doing with it, whether it's blocks or markers or papers or an iPad."

"So it's not handing them a laptop or an iPad and saying that's the education," said Dr. Brian Metcalf, the superintendent for Grand Ledge Public Schools. "It really is using the iPad to to support and enhance the teaching and the learning."

That's exactly what future teachers learn in Michigan State University's education program - technology doesn't drive education, it's simple another tool to use.

"It's not just technology alone, it always happens in the context of how you teach it and what you're teaching," said Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf, an assistant professor of educational technology at MSU.

In a world with ever-evolving technology, teachers have to get creative and be flexible.

"Even the tool itself changes so the ability to problem solve and adapt," Dr. Wolf said.

Teachers aren't the only ones who have to adapt to the tech changes. With a generation of students growing up easily accessing their classwork digitally, what does that mean for the future of printed textbooks and the publishers who create them?

"As the eReaders adapt quickly," Gabriel Dotto, the director of the MSU Press, said. "All sorts of internal coding has to be added, special formats so text can flow whether I want to read it on a broad screen or a phone."

Even if textbooks one day become obsolete, Dotto warns - don't expect prices to drop significantly.

"An enormous amount of what a publisher expends in time and creative process has to do with all the background work, especially in academic publishing," said Dotto.

But Dotto believes electronic texts open up the possibility for more content.

"The far richer idea would be how will I enhance that in a different way," Dotto said. "Can that eBook have film and audio?"

It's an opportunity to give students access to pictures, video, and text with a simple tap of the finger - something that's already second-nature for these five and six-year-old students.

"The whiteboard," a kindergarten student at Neff said, describing one of the iPad's apps. "You have them over there or on here. So this is just kind of helpful to do it on this, because you just click on it and it goes right to it."

The bottom line, educators say, is that no matter how advanced the technology, it can never substitute good teaching and hard work.


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