The Lion's Roar

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Sean Tomasetto '19

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It’s no secret that as the years have gone by, technology has become more and more commonplace in all aspects of our lives, including education. To get the scoop on how technology has evolved, and potential concerns that arise because of that, I spoke to four different teachers here at West and asked for their thoughts: Ms. Adamson, Ms. Esposito, Ms. Schmarak, and Mr. Kovalevich.

How long have you been teaching?

Adamson: Six or seven years.

Esposito: Nineteen years.

Schmarak: Twenty-seven years.

Kov: Fourteen years.

How has technology evolved since you started teaching?

Adamson: “There were concerns that not everybody would have access to technology, internet, or smartphones when I first started here about six or seven years ago. We used to have to sign up for chromebook carts and hope nobody else was using them, but now this year each English classroom has an assigned chromebook cart so we always have access to computers, which is great.”

Esposito: “It has expanded greatly. I would say the first five years of my career, it was very minimal technology besides basic word processing, and then I’d say in the last ten years it has grown, especially with the ability to put assignments online through Google Classroom, and the ability to collaborate with students using all of the Google apps for education.”

Kov: “Well I would say that we have more access to it. Students have greater access to computers and I’m pretty sure every room has a smartboard. I would say there’s more of an expectation now that we use it.”

Do you think that this type of technology is beneficial to a learning environment?

Adamson: “It really depends on how comfortable the instructor is about learning the technology. It can be more interactive and engaging, but kids lose the ability to interact with each other face to face and that’s an important life thing, so I try to do a blend of it.

“Sometimes I think it’s important to have that face time with somebody, to interact with a student face to face, since you communicate not only with spoken word but with body language. It’s important to have these skills, and sometimes they can get lost behind the screen. The upside to using technology in the classroom is that kids who were normally quiet and have great ideas have more of a presence. There’s pros and cons like anything else.”

Schmarak: “Yes, it’s beneficial to the students individually. Technology especially allows us to learn in different ways and I think that’s been really helpful to a lot of students and teachers. For instance, just recently I used a padlet with a class and the reason I did that is because it allowed them a review tool that they could use to see a visual, read a definition, and then hear someone talk about the significance of the term, so it provided a variety of ways to learn new material, and for those who used it, it seemed to make a difference in the way they felt about the test.

“I think that they’ll see greater success in terms of being able to approach material in a variety of ways. I also think that, used properly, it could make education more interesting, more fun, more accessible, and as a teacher, it’s caused me to reassess how I do things as well. I don’t need to be the giver of information as much because it’s all out there and it’s so much more accessible. I can tell my students ‘Google it, look it up,’ and then we can get into the more ‘higher level learning’, is the phrase they like to use, the ‘why’s and ‘what if’s of the material.”

[When asked if technology makes teaching easier:] “It’s more prep work on the teacher’s part, because I’m not comfortable with technology. Teachers have to learn something, too, very much so. A lot of our time in the school this year is devoted to learning different platformsdifferent ways to present learning in order to attract and hopefully encourage more students to learn. But I mentioned the padlet, and there were several problems using it in the classroom. What I found wonderful is that the kids knew how to do things that I didn’t know how to do. Once upon a time, teaching was ‘Don’t let the kids know how much you don’t know,’ and now it’s ‘I don’t know how to do this, does anybody know how to do this?’ So I like that, I like learning to be cooperative.”

Kov: “There are aspects of technological change that enhance education, and I think teachers at West are able to use it effectively without it becoming a detriment to more important aspects of culture.”

Do you think technology’s presence in education is making traditional methods of learning, such as pen and paper, obsolete?

Adamson: “The trick is finding that middle ground. The goal is to help kids learn and people learn in different ways. I’m very cautious about going overboard with technology, since sometimes there’s a place for old school.

“Some kids like to read E-Books. I don’t. I like an old fashioned book in my hands. The trick is when kids are using their phones as E-Readers, you don’t know if they’re actually reading; they could be on social media.”

Esposito: “I don’t think they’re becoming obsolete; I think it’s being redefined. Face to face is still happening, but blended learning is a mix of face to face with technology. There’s a time and a place where it’s one hundred percent online — it depends on what you’re teaching, how you instruct, and the student you have in front of you. It’s being redefined.

“I think blended learning is the best method right now, especially to prepare students for what they’re going to anticipate in college and the workforce. We’re teaching students digital literacy skills which are important skills to have in life.”

Schmarak: “I think obsolete is a possibility, and I have my own opinions on that. I know several teachers have gone paperless at this point, and environmentally that’s brilliant. My concern is, I don’t know how quickly that change is gonna come, and my fear is that kids need to know how to write with a pen and paper. I also think that the computer encourages a different kind of communication. There are studies already suggesting that your generation communicates differently than mine did, like word usage and face to face.

“I’m taking classes online and I very rarely see my professors. I communicate with them, but I don’t see them. There’s none of that, and I miss that. Brainstorming takes on a whole different meaning when you don’t have those brains in the same room.”

Kov: “I would say no, actually. I think that even with the increase of technology, which is indispensable in aspects like science that allow us to understand the world better, the paper and pencil method emphasizes the skills that people need to understand the technology. I don’t think the question is how to use the technology, but whether using the technology is ultimately beneficial to our society.

“The selling point of technology is how you get information to students efficiently, but school was never really about that, and it hasn’t been an issue in school for hundreds of year. Things like libraries and the printing press, the expansion of information — what technology has done is multiply that, but the technology doesn’t tell you which sources the students should be focused on. I try to emphasize that there’s still a place for the traditional methods. Technology was created by us to help us, not to replace us.”

Do you think that when the current generation of students, raised on technology, become teachers, there’s going to be an even bigger emphasis on technology?

Adamson: “What this addresses is the teacher shortage. There are fewer and fewer people going into education, and with the virtual classrooms and the ability to do screencasting, you can increase how many classes a teacher can teach. That’s kind of scary, that there’s less need for teachers. Google owns anything put up on Google Classroom, so you have that issue of intellectual property. So much of education is that relationship, so it’s concerning. Just because it’s faster and more interactive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better; test scores may be better, but does that make it better for society?”

Esposito: “Yes, definitely, I think it’s going to expand in a positive way.” [When asked if the new emphasis on technology could be detrimental to those seeking jobs:] “I think it depends on what job you’re going after, definitely that’s something throughout time, that progress has eliminated jobs, but the message to students is to excel in whatever technology is required in the field you’re entering. If you go into reporting, you should excel in communication technology. If you’re going into medicine, you need to know what technology you need to be able to harness in order to become an expert in your field.”

Schmarak: “I don’t think we have a choice but to go for technology. I think a key element to history curriculum that translates perfectly to technology is that there’s so much out there. There’s so much out there, but how do you know what’s worth looking at?

“It’s not so much giving the information as it is helping the students know how to know what information is worth knowing; knowing how to recognize what’s critical, what’s overly biased, and what’s promoting a certain agenda. We can’t be dependent on technology. We have to use it, not be used by it, and that’s something I think we as teachers need to make clear.”

Kov: “I think that new technology does create, to a certain extent, new types of people, especially if they’re raised from the beginning. There are expectations that it must be important, and it must be good to use, and I don’t think that the issue with technology is how students use it. I think technology is actually made so that anybody can use it. I think the concern is that technology begins to replace other aspects of life.”

Do you have any final comments?

Adamson: “I think it’s exciting. I’m grateful that the district and administration has given us opportunities to learn more.”

Esposito: “I’m currently doing an action research project with my students where I’m surveying them and interviewing them about the impact of technology on their learning, and as a result, I’m finding which tools work best in learning and engagement. Technology options can be overwhelming, so when you open up the lines of communication with your students, it helps you narrow down which ones are the most effective.”

Schmarak: “My last point is, I still hate the phones. They’re distracting and annoying and I’d like to see them banned from the building.”

Kov: “Technology is a tool. It’s essential to have an understanding of technology in the modern world, but it’s also important, in my estimation, to understand that it is only a tool and that it has limitations, and that you need to understand those limitations.”

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