Technology

Charge

Commonwealth has historically been cautious about the adoption of technology, seeking to preserve a culture that values close face-to-face relationships and the habits of careful, deliberate attention in reading, writing, research, and discussion. At the same time the school has adopted appropriate tools that can expand the reach of inquiry and communication and make much of the routine work of teaching and learning more efficient and effective.

The Technology Committee’s charges included exploring adoption of iPads—in the expectation of a more general transition in education from paper to e-textbooks—and looking at the feasibility and advisability of joining the Malone Online Network as a way of expanding Commonwealth’s reach and offerings.

The Committee’s deliberations were informed by conversations with the Director of Technology and faculty, and by feedback from questionnaires given to teachers and students.

Findings

Because the question of joining the Malone Online Network proved more a question of the program’s quality than one of technology, the Technology Committee passed off the question of joining the network to the Program Committee.

Questionnaires and conversations with teachers and students revealed widespread caution about a mandated purchase and use of iPads by ninth graders. Faculty recognized that requiring new students to purchase the devices would mean mandated adoption for the whole school in a few years. Students were surprisingly negative (they like to annotate and manipulate physical textbooks) and worried about everything from the cost to the potential for distraction. Reports from other schools that have iPad programs were decidedly mixed. It also was clear that a mandated adoption would run counter to Commonwealth’s tradition of giving teachers autonomy in the design of their courses.

It seemed far preferable to encourage teachers to explore—rather than mandate—the use of iPads and technology in the classroom by giving them devices and training, and to run a more modest pilot program with students. Two teachers agreed to use iPads in their classes for the 2013-2014 school year. Also, given the summer’s switch to Google Apps for the school’s email and conferencing, it seemed prudent both to limit major transitions teachers and students faced and to see what tools Google offered before jumping to any other platforms.

Recommendations

  • On the Committee’s recommendation, the school bought iPads for fifteen teachers with the requirement that they attend a summer workshop in use of the devices in education. The Committee recommends continuation of this program to encourage training and development of appropriate adoption.
  • The school purchased forty iPads for use by students taking classes with Ryan Johnson (physics) and Frédérique Thiebault-Adjout (Spanish and French) in the 2013-2014 school year.
  • While the decision has been made not to join the Malone Online Consortium, the Committee supports the continued monitoring of the Consortium’s progress and the exploration of other ways to make use of online learning that is in keeping with the culture and values of the school.

Next Steps

The adoption of Google Apps and the enthusiastic advocacy by younger teachers of its offerings, of various iPad applications, and of other online resources such as ArtStor signal a clear direction forward for the adoption of the tools of technology. Our Director of Technology/Facilities Manager, Jeff Racioppi, should be consulted about the support and help he’ll need to keep up with growing demand and expectations.