Technology in Lower School

Division Directors' Blog
Posted May 11, 2014
by Julie Schlossinger, Lower School Director

In a recent hallway conversation pertaining to mobile devices with a fifth grade student, I was called a name. A digital immigrant is what he called me. My immediate response was disbelief. I argued confidently with the young man that I am quite tech savvy and categorically denied the label. He laughed, just as you might expect a fifth grade boy to laugh at an adult who doesn’t get it.

Of course as soon as I made it back to my office, I Googled digital immigrant. Here is what I learned- Marc Prensky coined the term in his work, "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" published in 2001. He wrote, “The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their "accent," that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were "socialized" differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.”

That fifth grade boy, the one who has been interacting with technology since he was born, is a digital native. Myself, born in the early 70’s, interacted with the following technology: AM Transistor Radio (1970), Pong (1972), VCR (1971), Walkman (1979), and MS-DOS (1981) during the first 11 years of my life. I’ve since tracked down that fifth grader and conceded to his original assertion- I am a digital immigrant. He laughed at me again.

Around the same time of this exchange with the fifth grader, a parent reached out to me asking very thoughtful questions about the use of technology in the lower school at VMS. Questions such as: what types of technology are teachers and students using, for what subjects, how often, benefits, potential drawbacks, how much is too much screen time, what are we seeing in terms of learning success, and where if anywhere does it not have a place, etc. To answer those questions I set out in search of research.

Unfortunately there really isn’t any hard, large-scale data that makes for solid research to support either side of the coin. As one might suspect the majority of studies available were funded by the very companies that created the technology used in schools. What I did find is that 2010 and 2011 seemed to be popular years of small studies and articles debating the pros and cons of increased technology use in classroom. For instance, in a 2011 study that was referenced in US News and World Report titled, “Study: Emerging Technology Has Positive Impact in Classroom.” It stated, “Taught with video lectures, Stacey Roshan, an Advanced Placement calculus teacher at Bullis School—a private school for students grades three through 12 in Potomac, Md., shared that her students in the 2010-11 school year scored an average of 4.11 on the AP calculus test, compared to the 3.59 average among her students who took the test and were taught in the traditional classroom setting just the year before. And a third of the class—a 10 percent increase from the previous year—scored a 5, the highest score a student can achieve on an AP test.”

A meta-analysis of over a thousand studies concerning online learning was released by the U.S. Department of Education in September 2010. That study concluded, “Students in online-only instruction performed modestly better than their face-to-face counterparts, and that students in classes that blended both face-to-face and online elements performed better than those in solely online or face-to-face instruction.” (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

The Speak Up survey from Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit research organization, and Blackboard, Inc., surveyed 300,000 students, parents, and teachers about their views on the use of technology in the classroom. Results from the 2010 survey showed, “An increased interest from educators in mobile learning, as well as an increase in the number of students who own mobile devices such as smartphones, regardless of economic or demographic differences. The survey also found an increased interest in online learning and blended learning opportunities, as well as electronic textbooks.”

Finally, a study by CompTIA—which surveyed 500 K-12 teachers across the country, reported that, “78 percent of K-12 teachers and administrators believe technology has positively impacted the classroom and the productivity of their students. 65 percent of educators surveyed also believe that students are more productive and engaged today than they were three years ago due to the increased reliance on technology in the classroom.”

The studies and surveys noted above support my experience using technology in the classroom here at VMS. The variety of choices that are readily available today for teachers to reach students in engaging and efficient ways is remarkable. Likewise, so do the ways in which students engage in processing new skills using technology. These technological choices for both teachers and students provide motivation, creativity, and complexity in education today.

So even though teachers in 2014 are digital immigrants, I like to point out that the lower school teachers at VMS are undeniably innovative educators. They are passionate about on-going learning in all areas of education that support the whole child- pedagogy, brain-research, social/emotional development, and the use of technology in their classrooms. They know their students are active learners, requiring information to be relevant, non-linear, and visual.  They know that their students’ view is global and collaborative.  And they know they must make choices to use engaging technologies in collaborative, inquiry-based learning environments to prepare our students for success in the future.

About Vail Mountain School

Founded in 1962, Vail Mountain School is a K-12, coed, independent school in Vail, Colorado. Our philosophy is to provide a demanding, college preparatory, liberal arts education in an atmosphere of mutual respect between faculty and students, where nurturing a healthy self-concept and stimulating academic inquiry are parallel objectives. Intentionally designed cross-age programs promote role modeling, responsibility, self confidence, and a sense of community. Our location in the Rocky Mountains allows us to integrate the outdoors into the academic and cultural fabric of the school through hut trips, all-school Ski Fridays, and other experiential learning opportunities. The result: our graduates possess a quiet confidence that serves them well in college and in life—confidence to assert themselves in their first college level essays; to raise their hand in a class of hundreds; to live on their own for the first time, to meet with and engage their professors; and to lead among their peers.