I visited Eric’s High School on February 24th to observe Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and his implementation of a contemporary learning environment. I was impressed. I was most impressed at Eric’s reflection that he was once part of the problem, banning devices from his school rather then embracing the use of the technology. That has changed and Eric trusts his students to interact responsibly with media and communication tools. These expectations are being met by staff and students.
I visited New Milford High School with Media Specialist Zach Gross (from Matawan Regional High School) and was immediately brought to a math classroom hearing the teacher say “OK everyone, bring out your phones.” Students brought out a variety of devices including Blackberries, iPhones, and Smartphones to answer multiple choice questions. These multiple choice questions were accessed through the website Polleverywhere.com to assess student understanding via an instant audience feedback system. The activity progressed seamlessly and the students were engaged.
We then went to the cafeteria where students were allowed to use devices during their lunch period and to our surprise, most students were eating, chatting (face-to-face), and just hanging out. The stereotype of the teenager texting impulsively, ignoring the physical presence of people around them, was shattered. Some students were using laptops and devices for class assignments or to text, but most were sitting at tables together, talking.
Students described their use of devices for educational activities and took personal responsibility for using the devices appropriately. I attribute this to Eric’s leadership and the team’s foresight, for embracing the learning environment and adapting their understanding of the tools used by the millennial generation. This structure allows the staff and administration to enhance learning activities and school climate through trust and responsibility, rather than banning new technologies for fear of what the students could do with them.
After my visit to New Milford I met with the Superintendent of Randolph Township Schools Dr. David Browne (a friend and former colleague), and his Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Fano to discuss their implementation of technology to create a rigorous and relevant learning environment. Both of these educational leaders follow Eric’s blog and tweets. They described “meeting” a 1st grade class via Facetime using an iPad and Apple TV. The administrative team promotes creative uses of VLOGS, numerous apps and many other technologies to improve learning. Innovation is a common practice in Randolph Township Schools and is led by the district administration.
It is evident that creating a contemporary learning environment begins with educational leaders embracing new opportunities for using technology rather than relying on what has worked in the past. Technology needs to facilitate student collaboration, problem solving, and communication to enhance learning, rather then a “smoke and mirrors” approach like providing electronic worksheets. Administrators in 2012 must understand how to implement new technologies, not just “infuse” technology the easy way. Equipped with a critical eye for evaluation, administrators, as evidenced at NMHS and RTS, can improve the delivery and impact of instruction.
The administrators in New Milford and Randolph Township get it, and understand that to be successful, they must be life-long learners.