Students and staff have mixed reactions to use of technology as classroom tool

graphic: Marie Louise James

graphic: Marie Louise James

The emergence of technology innovations around the world has transformed both the teaching styles of educators and the learning paths of students in the classroom. In many areas, the normalization of this digital wave has even become an essential part of the educational process. While many PHS students are already familiar with the integration of electronic tools in class, like teacher websites and iPads, the district has followed the global trend to expand access to and use of technological tools in high school

“Technology really connects the world,” said Lucia Firbas ’17. “It facilitates so many areas of communication and education—that [makes it] really important to make sure we have the best [electronic] resources.”

While technology serves as an optional educational tool, many teachers find it an indispensable aspect of succeeding in their daily instructional methods. “I think this is very important for our teaching because we need to connect all our curriculum with technology,” said Mandarin teacher Shwu-Fen Lin. “Our kids are called the technology generation, and in my world language class I use a lot of different types of technology to [reinforce] my teaching.”

At PHS, technology is used not only to support and enhance curricula, but also to provide an outlet for efficient access to information. In addition to funding devices like iPads, ChromeBooks, and MacBooks, the district pays for multiple softwares and research-based databases such as JSTOR, NoodleTools, Turnitin, EBSCO Discovery, and eBooks. According to the PPS’s User-Friendly Budget Summary, the district anticipates spending $1,912,700 for education media services in the library for this school year, among other digital, learning-related costs.

While open areas in the school like the Ideas Center and the Learning Commons are supported by funds from the district’s Technology Office, each department manages the quantity of technology available to its teachers and students when allocating its own budget. Funds go toward computers, iPads, specific curriculum-related programs, document cameras, and LCD projectors, among other devices.

For example, resources in the language department include 30 iPads, four full computer carts, 30 iPods, specific apps, a Quizlet account for each teacher, and teacher training for the use of Google Classroom. Nevertheless, Lin believes that the world languages department could still benefit from further access to technology in order to connect PHS and foreign communities. “Our department sometimes talks to our sister schools [in different countries], and if we can have more advanced technology, [that can] help us talk to them immediately,” she said.

While the district has already made plans to expand technological resources this year, it first aims to focus on digital access for PHS students outside of the school building. As of September 23, the Board of Education has released an initiative to increase the number of students in the Princeton district with access to the Internet at home. The plan, titled Electronic Access for All, includes aims to survey the number of households without Internet and to reduce the number by 40 percent by June with the assistance of community partners.

“It would allow more flexibility of assignments,” said history and ESL teacher Christine Carbone. “For example, there’s been a lot of talk about the flipped classroom, where teachers can record lectures and put them online, and students can listen to them at night and then do performance-based activities in class. [As in that example], equal access is important just in terms of the [plan’s] title—that every student gets the equal opportunity to be successful in school.”

For students who do not always have Internet access, phones, computers, or other devices, being assigned to use those tools at home can engender difficulty in completing homework and communicating with teachers. “There is a struggle for students without Internet, especially depending on [how far] you live from [resources] like the Princeton [Public] Library, where I can find access to Internet and computers to help me do research,” said Jacob Polly ’17. “It would not only be very challenging to get the information that I need for my studies, but teachers would also ask me questions about why I wouldn’t be getting my work done.”

Regarding use inside the classroom, many students find that digital learning in class is positive and beneficial toward their success. “There are a lot of resources that are available to us now that make it much easier to [conduct] research,” said Natasha Patel ’18.

However, some students believe that there are also issues associated with the current use of technology in class. “Computers can be both distracting and time-consuming, especially when there are technical difficulties,” said Emily Pawlak ’15, adding that teachers occasionally use technology unnecessarily. “Sometimes, it is very helpful for teachers to use technological tools to explain certain topics to students, but it can be frustrating when they force us to use computers to look things up or record ourselves when it is much easier to write notes or jot down ideas by hand.”

“Technology can sometimes be overused and over-utilized like a crutch for some people, rather than a tool,” said history teacher Timothy Campbell. “I think there’s a real danger in relying too heavily on technology and not enough on the art of teaching.”

Teachers also restrict electronic use in the classroom for other reasons, the most significant being the distraction that it poses for students.

“There’s this fine line [between] using it [correctly] and using it wrongly,” said biology teacher Jacqueline Katz. “I think, in the future, it can definitely become a bigger part of the classroom if students get used to using it wisely. But it may take some time for us to get there, in the sense of knowing what should and shouldn’t be done in the classroom [with electronics].”

In the science department, other drawbacks exist. “One [reason] is that [technology] would become a forced fit that goes against thoughtful, coherent planning,” wrote the district’s science supervisor Cherry Sprague in an email. “Two, there is resource limitations, [such as] shared computers or iPads, for instruction that needs full student engagement in a sustained manner.”

While there are no set requirements for teachers, the integration of technology is partially due to recommendations set by certain departments. “There aren’t requirements, but we have core content standards for [technology] across New Jersey,” said English teacher Susan Murphy. “Technology is something that is embedded in everything we do; it is something that is in our performance reviews at the end of the year, [and] we have to explain and show that we have embedded and used technology in our lesson planning.”

“Recommendations in our department include using it regularly, but also to not completely get rid of old school textbooks,” said Katz. “Also, to use it in the labs, because [that is what is] happening in science labs around the world today.”

In the meantime, many members of the school community are grateful for the technology the district provides and expect it to continue evolving the way both educators and students learn. “In the future, we will need to learn more about technology and through this, learn more about the world,” said Lin. “Our view and knowledge will expand, and this makes technology our future.”

 

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