We need to prepare students for the real (technological) world.
How does a school go from being a technology bottom-feeder to serving as a leader in academic computing? That’s a question that St. Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio, is happy to answer: We did it by weaving technology as an integral thread into the fabric of education and student life.
Today, our 355 students have access to 60 computers in two dedicated labs and an additional 50 computers distributed throughout the school. Our teachers take full advantage of technology when planning their curricula and implement technology across the spectrum of school life. The credit for this goes to the faculty, whose innovative approaches to technology implementation have driven our program from the bottom up.
At first, there was resistance to change, but we believed strongly in making technology course-integral rather than course-supplemental. To make sure everyone involved in the process had the greatest chance to succeed, we used four guidelines.
1. Minimize the trauma. Make the process of change as painless and unobtrusive as possible. Ensure that the technology meets the needs of the teachers and closely resembles what they are already doing. Instead of trying to get teachers to adapt their programs to the new technology, adapt the technology to what the teachers are doing and ease them into the changes.
2. Minimize the change. Introduce technology at a slow, steady pace, expanding it in areas that are most easily mastered and most widely used. That will give teachers time to think about what other applications can be adapted to the technology. The potential of a system that can take any teacher’s grade book and match it with any other teacher’s grade book to produce a report card is astounding. But if that requires teachers to become programmers to get the job done, forget about it.
3. Maximize the potential. Make sure that the most useful features of the new system are the ones the teachers understand first and use most. Then explain that they’re using only the tip of the iceberg. Technology-shy users need to know that what they’re doing is worthwhile, but they also need to know that the system can offer them even more capabilities in the future.
4. Maximize the details. Invest time up front so that all the details are in place. When changing from one electronic grade book program to another, for instance, a colleague objected that the replacement program wasn’t as intuitive as the previous one. Despite an increase in functionality, teachers may resist a new program that isn’t as easy to use. Having vendors provide in-service training is one way to ease the transition. Using these four guidelines, St. Peter Chanel’s foreign language department developed a technology-based curriculum that provides the virtual experience of living abroad. Students exchange e-mail, lesson assignments and Web-based information with their counterparts in France. The program, which is run in cooperation with a French school and a local university, gives students the opportunity to learn a foreign language and to pick up nuances of culture and society that can’t be gleaned from a textbook.
At St. Peter Chanel, similar programs in music, art, drama, science, language arts and extracurricular activities sprouted in a short time because teachers were encouraged to make small, simple, acceptable changes to their curricula. The key was to start the ball rolling, listen to the faculty’s needs, wishes and dreams — and then proceed slowly.
Our experience shows that the proper application of technology, woven as an integral thread in the fabric of the academic experience, provides a key component in preparing students for the world outside our walls.
Stephen Majercik, Ph.D., teaches computer technology at St. Peter Chanel High School and Case Western Reserve University. He is an amateur photographer and published author. His fourth book, Angels Beneath a Freckled Sky, will be published in December.