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Classroom Tech With a Human Touch

Earlier this week, The New York Times—which in the past has been criticized for negative coverage of educational technology—reported on a student-laptop program in the Mooresville, N.C., school district that has led to impressive gains in achievement and student engagement. The secret? By assimilating the Apple devices into their pedagogy and classroom routines, the story says, Mooresville teachers are able to provide more one-on-one instruction and allow students to work at different paces. Many teachers are also moving away from standard lecture formats and allowing students to do more collaborative and independent work. In general, the article stresses, Mooresville teachers value the computers not "for the newest content they can deliver" but for their ability to help them develop a more nuanced—perhaps more personalized—form of instruction.

But don't just take the Times' word for it. Just by coincidence (I swear), we launched a new Teaching Ahead roundtable discussion this week on the topic of classroom technology, and one of the panelists, Nancy Gardner, happens to be an English teacher at Mooresville High School. In her first post in the discussion, Gardner—a 27-year teaching veteran—discusses the way the laptop program has helped teachers in her district refine their practice:

My colleagues and I have become more student-centered. Our teaching is more focused, and we use more project-oriented, engaging activities. This intentional teaching is partly influenced by the use of data to drive instruction. However, it is also due to the nature of the tool itself: We are rethinking what students need to know and be able to do for life in the 21st century and how we can best help them reach these goals.

Gardner also notes that the program has included "ongoing opportunities for professional development"—something the Times story mysteriously neglects to mention. That would seem to be an integral part of building educators' confidence and resourcefulness in using digital tools. Another Teaching Ahead panelist, Jennie Magiera, stresses this point in her initial post:

Simply throwing devices into a classroom and putting "technology integration" as a checkbox on evaluation forms will result in—at best—mixed results. Teachers need support that speaks to their different levels of technology expertise. Professional development needs to reflect the best practices we use for teaching our own students—it must be differentiated, time-efficient, and hands-on.
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