GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Androids and iPads may be cool, but it’s their nerd factor that will ultimately win over educators.
More than 130 educators came to the Galloway Township Middle School on Tuesday to share how they use iPads, e-readers and tablets, or to learn how they might use them.
Designed as a free “unconference,” the nature of the day’s workshops demonstrated the new and rapidly evolving use of tablet technology in schools. There were no scheduled topics, just blocks of time. Participants spent the first session identifying their primary interests, then broke into groups to discuss them.
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In order to host Tuesday’s PadCamp, the school district’s tech department had to install extra wireless ports.
Galloway will implement a grant-funded pilot program this year using iPads with small groups of special-education and basic-skills students and English language learners. Administrators also plan to test them for teacher evaluations.
“We’re starting small to see what we can do and what is effective,” Galloway Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said.
Tablet technology is evolving as fast as consumers will buy it. School officials on tight taxpayer budgets are trying to figure out how — and even if — they should use them. Should tablets replace desktop computers? Or are they destined to be just the new cool kid in school, admired by many, but befriended by only a few?
Kevin Jarrett, the Northfield School District's K-4 technology facilitator and primary organizer of PadCamp, said money is the first and biggest challenge.
“Right behind that is understanding how to use the tablet in a classroom to get the most value for students,” Jarrett said. “The curriculum has to drive the technology.”
Larry Perry, of Millville, teaches multimedia technology to middle school students in Millville. He led a workshop focused on how to make tablet use safe. He recommended investing in a remote desktop unit through which the teacher can monitor every tablet.
“One of the reasons this room is packed is because we are all concerned about how to manage this,” he said, referring to the rapidly growing number of applications for such a tiny device. “Most apps are intertwined with the Internet. At first our (Instructional Technology) department didn’t want even one app. They saw it as a disaster waiting to happen. But you have to work together.”
Linwood technology coordinator Frank Pileiro equated tablet use with trying to drink water from a fire hose. There are just so many options pouring out that it’s easy to get distracted from the primary mission.
“You have to get people to identify exactly how they are going to use it,” he said.
Special-education teachers have especially embraced the technology because students have adapted to it easily and effectively. Pileiro said laptops have been able to replace more expensive specialized assistive technology.
The array of choices can also be paralyzing. Melissa Jacobs-Israel, the coordinator of library services for the New York City School District, told media specialists that part of their job is to try everything and make informed decisions.
“We need to be the leaders,” she said. “We need to push ourselves to learn everything, even if there is something new every year. We are chasing a moving target.”
She hosts “exploratoriums” — a sort of technology buffet where educators can try iPads as well as digital book readers such as Nooks and Kindles.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all process,” she said. “A Kindle may work great in high school, but it’s not as good if you want to do picture books with preschoolers. For that, you want an iPad.”
Or, maybe just some new books, said Jacobs-Israel, the mother of a 3-year-old whose own home is full of books.
“It is a different experience to hold a book and we shouldn’t lose sight of that,” she said.
Cheryl Bonsall, the media specialist in Northfield, said they are discussing whether to invest in a few e-readers.
“The biggest issue is which reader is best for us,” she said.
Galloway Curriculum Supervisor Betty Napoli has spent the summer investigating educational apps for the district’s pilot project.
“There are new apps every day,” she said. “And you can buy them for 99 cents. But you have to keep your eye on the goal. What we still want is that every student learn to read and write and do math. This just helps us find a way to get them all there.”
Giaquinto said she believes schools have to embrace new technology.
“This is the world our students live in,” she said. “They use this technology every day. We need to teach them how to use it responsibly.”
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