Tech integration in schools

Hannah Jane Deciutiis

     With the massive amounts of technology available to 21st century teens, it shouldn’t come as a surprise the education system would eventually catch up. Though class isn’t necessarily in session via the FaceTime app on the iPhone 4 or over Skype, education throughout Texas is being revamped to include new equipment, new software and new techniques of reaching students in the tech-savvy world they’ve grown up in.

     Cedar Park High School students involved in extracurricular activities have begun to witness these changes. One example of new types of technology available is SmartMusic, a program for band students that allows them to record themselves playing their music at home and receive an instant score based on the number of notes played correctly.

     “It’s actually pretty cool,” Grace Van Allen, freshman, said. “It records your music and tells you what notes you got wrong and you send in your score.”

      Leander ISD has also been in the process of integrating web 2.0 tools into elementary, middle and high school education. Web 2.0 tools entail a two-way communication between users, hence the term “2.0.” This year an instructional technology facilitator joined the curriculum writing team to help get these tools embedded into core subject curriculums.

     “The district is moving in the right direction,” Nancy Tarvin, Executive Director of Elementary Curriculum, said. “We’ve been studying books on these tools [in order to ensure] a guaranteed and viable curriculum, so that [the integration] isn’t hit-or-miss.”

     New software is currently in the works, such as Uniservity, which is a district-wide program allowing students to turn in assignments electronically and teachers to communicate comments in one neat package. Trainings for the program are underway and it is expected to be up and running for select pilot schools in the coming months. Cedar Park has been selected among other schools in LISD as a pilot school. Processes are currently in place to instruct students on how to properly and safely use these web tools to empower their education.

     “The goal is to enhance your critical thinking skills [to help] take ownership of your learning that no teacher can have,” Tarvin said. “Bret Champion always says that he wants technology to be the pencil of our time. The pencil allowed for communication, and [these new programs] will allow for communication on a global scale.”

     Districts outside of Leander such as Round Rock ISD have made laptops available to each student and teacher and installed a fully functional wireless network throughout each school. The result, aside from allowing students to complete their homework in a familiar, tech-friendly online format, is a new requirement that forces teachers to work outside of class to become able to use these programs. This ability to be comfortable with modern software is often becoming a hiring point for teachers, according to Austin ISD administrators.

     Higher education centers and universities are also turning to more modern means of spreading information to students. iTunesU, a program announced by Governor Rick Perry, allows students and teachers alike to access materials and information in one simple program. Online programs are even being offered to high school dropouts that allow them to attain their GED electronically through the Virtual School Network.

     Though innovation is most always considered an improvement, some students caution against absolute dependency on gadgets.

     “New technology isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you can’t get too dependent on it,” Daniel Wessels, junior, said. “If you’re too dependent on one system and it crashes then you could potentially fail your class.”

     Whether Texas schools will eventually rely entirely on electronic programs for learning or remain relatively wireless in the next few years is a mystery to many, but it is a fact that education is beginning to catch up to the constantly active, tireless world of technology and innovation.