Apthorpe: Don't Assume Technology Equals Learning
Many middle- and high-school students in the Jamestown Public Schools District were sent either an iPad or a laptop computer to help them keep up with their school work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The older students needed the technology to keep up with the district’s switch to online learning. While elementary school children were given printed materials, many elementary school teachers are working an online component into their plans as well.
Dr. Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, said the district didn’t have enough technology to give every student an iPad or a laptop, but that he hopes older students will share with younger siblings if the school district technology is the only such equipment in a home.
“If a middle schooler has an iPad and it’s the only electronic device in the house and they have a sibling who is an elementary student and the elementary student’s teacher may say here’s some extra activities you can do online, the middle school student should give up the iPad to the elementary students. There is an “ish” in all of this. We don’t have enough devices to give every single one of our students devices. Our goal is we want to have everyone have as much access to learning as possible.”
There have also been questions about why some elementary school teachers are using online resources while others are not. Apthorpe said that all depends on how individual teachers are most comfortable teaching their students. That means some teachers are using Zoom to meet with their students over the Internet while other teachers are not. Apthrope said the differences in how teachers teach means the district has to be flexible in which students received school-provided electronic devices.
“If we have an elementary teacher, for example, who has been using iPads with her students or his students all year and their pedagogy is linked to that, and the kids are familiar with that, the teacher just needs to work with the principal to get devices to where they’re needed. It’s very much a gray piece but it’s very much teacher-driven. If the teacher has provided resources that are accessible online and you don’t have the resources at home to get that, just let the principal know and we’ll make asure we get a device into your home so that can happen.”
The district’s desire to make sure children have the learning tools they need comes with a recognition that not every child will use electronic devices to further their education. Parent supervision is important, Apthorpe said, as is the recognition that an electronic device in a home doesn’t automatically mean a child will learn.
Apthorpe said schools’ move toward technology in the late 20th century taught educators that technology’s simple presence hasn’t indicated increases in student learning.
“When we didn’t see student achievement improve, we went back and looked at why and what we learned was technology is only as good as the pedagogy behind it, the instructional strategy behind it,” Apthorpe said. “You can have teachers who have phenomenal results in student acheivement and not have electronic devices. If the teacher wants to use an electronic device with their student and their students are comfortable with it, we’ll get them the device. I would just be careful, don’t assume that just because a student has an electronic device it is going to be an automatic improvement in student achievement.”