from Educators' eZine
There's a lot of talk these days about the 21st Century Classroom and the promise that a one-laptop-per-child initiative (1:1) has for furthering that vision.
1:1 is nothing new to my school. We've been doing it since 2002, for six years now, using iBook laptops for students in grades 5-12. As an Independent K-12 school for students with varied learning styles, many of whom are gifted, we implemented a 1:1 program, because we knew it would be critical to customize our approach for every child. There have been some bumps along the way, and perhaps the most surprising thing we've learned is that technology literacy has very little to do with overall learning. The teachers and students must be able to harness the technology to bring exciting learning opportunities into today's classrooms. This means that the laptop must be complemented by an excellent, schoolwide virtual learning environment—a familiar format, used by all classes, to best organize the myriad content that goes into a typical K-12 experience.
We've found it very interesting to watch other schools clamor over the virtual learning networks they choose—either rushing to implement something totally different because they believe that will set them apart, or choosing what everyone else chooses because they don't want to miss having a box check-marked.
The virtual learning network is important, but only insofar as it makes the teachers', students' and parents' jobs smoother in getting to the real learning. By that, I mean that it must be easy to set up for immediate school-wide use, it must be easy to load exciting, multimedia content that is relevant, it must be easy to customize and it must be easy to access.
A Dearth of Systems Built for K-12
Surprising to us is the fact that so many of the available virtual learning environments aren't easy to use. Most were built for universities or colleges—where students are expected to fend for themselves in the learning process, and where teachers have more time to spare than in K-12.
To make our 1:1 program work, we searched long and hard for a virtual learning environment that was built for K-12.
We implemented Studywiz Spark as a pilot program in our middle school just last year and we're noticing a marked increase in our students' learning opportunities. Set-up was simple. Once we had our server ready, Studywiz Spark support remotely took care of implementation.
What was interesting to us was the way the student body refused to wait for laggard technology adopters. We soon found that students were driving the teachers to fully adopt the program—they were eager to communicate with the teachers through Studywiz Spark messaging—and this convinced the teachers (some who had become jaded toward such technologies) how engaging the program could be.
Multimedia Benefits for the Unique Learner
The benefits of presenting in multimedia are ideal for the non-traditional learners who we serve. Using video, graphics and audio, teachers individualize their instruction and get a more exact picture of each student's true understanding of a subject. A student who has trouble reading, for example, could be gifted in science—and multimedia helps bring these strengths to light. Some of our students are auditory learners. For these students, memorization or retention of new information through reading is an all but impossible task. However, when they are able to take audio files of their teachers' lectures with them wherever they go, they can absorb the information exactly in the way their learning style permits.
Furthermore, our teachers appreciate the automation that comes with the quizzes we have students take using Studywiz Spark. Grading comes back instantaneously, without requiring our teachers to take additional steps—this is important for us, because we constantly track data here.
The result of an easy-to-use virtual learning network means multimedia complements the curriculum teachers are developing. If the content doesn't come more fully alive with multimedia, it may be that the teachers' curriculum isn't compelling. We rarely find that; and, even better, now students themselves are building videos, music presentations, or best, projects that integrate a range of media.
No Excuses for Carelessness
A reality of 1:1 programs is that sometimes students are careless with their computers—but if they lose their computer privileges, they still have access to Studywiz Spark, and so there is no excuse for missing work. This anytime/anywhere access will also assist us with our emergency management plan. If there's a situation in which we can't physically use the school, our plan B is to use Studywiz Spark, so teachers can communicate with the students.
We have seen our students' academic performance improve since getting more organized. Between having all their work backed up on a central location on our Apple servers, having their grades available to them through PowerSchool and having their curriculum, content, homework and their own personal eLockers available through Studywiz Spark, the students have their complete school experience with them wherever they have their laptop and an Internet connection.
For unique learners like ours, this is exciting. There is no longer the frustration associated with having to wait for answers—research is immediate and learning can progress unhindered.
Online Learning Environment: The Critical Components
K-12 needs to consider what will best complement the 1:1 initiative and most quickly get teachers and students into exciting content.
No class registration: Students are not responsible for building their own schedules. Instead, content is delivered for them in the dynamic learnspace. There is also a built-in support system for teachers, to assist them in building the initial introduction for their students.
Individualized learning: Teachers can tailor the curriculum to each student, which enables them to accommodate a diverse group that ranges from gifted students to those with special needs. Even assessments can be customized to evaluate individual learning needs. All of this is done in a private setting, ensuring that no student is aware of the differences in content for other students.
More control: Instead of sending students out onto the Web, elements of the Web are brought into the virtual learning environment. Thus, valuable Internet resources—including video feeds, chats, and other Web 2.0 tools—are immediately available to the learner, without the distractions or potential dangers present on the Web.
Parent involvement: Parental access to the learning experience is an essential component of our system. All assignments are posted on the system, providing parents with the opportunity to see what is being learned at any given time, as well as to e-mail teachers with questions or observations.
Kevin Goscha is Technology Director, Currey-Ingram Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee, where Apple iBooks are complemented with the Studywiz Spark dynamic learnspace.