FETC, one of the nation’s largest education technology conferences, opens in Orlando this week. StateImpact Florida will take a look at how state schools are trying to meet requirements to integrate more technology in lessons.
When 12th grade English teacher Mariolga Locklin’s students started thinking Shakespeare was nothing but an old fogey, she told them to pull out their phones and pull up Google.
A quick search proved The Bard was occasionally bawdy.
Locklin found allowing her students at Miami Palmetto Senior High School to use their smart phones and other high-tech devices in class kept them involved.
“I’m techy. I have an iPhone,” Locklin said. “I’m always looking things up.
“When we have vocabulary, they prefer to look up the words on their phone,” she said. “They have their phone out anyway, and I just turn to them and say ‘look this up.’”
About 10,000 of Locklin’s fellow techy teachers will gather in Orlando this week for FETC, one of the nation’s largest education technology conferences. The 33-year-old conference used to be called the Florida Education Technology Conference, organizers said, but was renamed as the event grew and began to draw a national following.
This year educators from all 50 states and 27 countries will attend.
The conference is a chance for teachers, principals and others to compare notes, share ideas and meet the companies behind the latest ed gadgets.
They meet as schools across the country are contemplating a technology overhaul to meet new, tougher education standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, known as Common Core. Those standards take effect in the fall of 2014.
And Florida schools face a second deadline: By the fall of 2015, half of classroom instruction must use digital materials.
Jennifer Womble is a former teacher who helps organize FETC.
In the early days of computers, she said, schools viewed technology in term of business skills such as typing.
“There’s been a transition from technology being a tool on the side of education,” Womble said, “to technology being completely integrated into the education day.”
Educators say they are excited about the potential that new technologies offer, but also have questions about how those digital tools will work with new curriculum and how schools will pay for the bandwidth, computers and other items needed to outfit students and schools.
Incorporating more technology in education has many potential benefits:
Digital textbooks can be updated more quickly, and include interactive items such as videos or a timeline. In addition, digital books may be less expensive than traditional books.
Students are already using smart phones and tablets. Why not deliver lessons on a device they already love using? Long-term, educators hope technology might mean higher attendance rates and fewer discipline problems. It also allows teachers to deliver lessons outside of school hours.
Tablets and computers can provide instant feedback. For instance, in an Orange County classroom every student has a tablet. When the teacher asks a question, he or she can instantly see which students got the answer right and help those who didn’t. And the tablet ensures that every student participates – even the shy ones.
It provides real-world skills. Reading, writing and arithmetic aren’t enough anymore if students can’t use a computer or a word processing program. When’s the last time a colleague sent you a hand-written memo?
Technology provides more choices. Just like iTunes allowed music buyers to pick and choose what songs they want, schools and teachers could soon pick and choose only those pieces of curriculum and lesson plans they want.
But many Florida schools districts will try to integrate these high-tech tools into low-tech facilities.
Miami Palmetto teacher Locklin says her school is a half-century old.
One reason she uses her phone in class is because the school computers are unreliable and the Internet network is slow.
Letting students use their own devices helps keep their interest. But those who don’t have a fancy phone can feel left out, she said.
The PTA is buying flat screen TVs for some classrooms – but Locklin wants something more.
“I’m still holding out for the smart board,” she said.
This week StateImpact Florida will be looking at Florida’s attempt to modernize its classrooms and instructional materials. What are school districts doing to prepare? How much research is there on whether high-tech education tools actually work?
We’ll also post photos, videos and more on what’s new at FETC.