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Education technology under the microscope

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Education technology under the microscope
Rosemount Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

As new forms of technology start to find their way into classrooms, Independent School District 196 is taking a closer look at the approach it wants to take to such advances.

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A district committee has been meeting since April to discuss the use of technology in classrooms. The group is looking at the skills students need to be successful in school and beyond, and at the ways the district can use technology to help students develop those skills.

That technology can take many forms. Increased access to video on sites like YouTube has allowed some teachers to use what are called flipped classrooms, where students watch what would normally be an in-class lecture as homework, then work on assignments during class when the teacher is there to answer questions and provide help. The result starts to feel like a college classroom, where students and teachers can have better discussions about the lesson at hand.

"You end up getting richer discussion and interaction," said Tony Taschner, the district's communication specialist and a member of the technology committee. "That is one example of using technology in this kind of different way of learning."

The district has also spent and more than $1 million per year from a capitol projects levy on improvements to the networks in its buildings. Those upgrades have allowed students to get online using the smartphones and tablets many of them already bring to school.

It is those tablets -- most notably Apple's iPad -- that have been the most visible example of new technology in the classroom. It is becoming increasingly common for school districts to provide iPads or similar devices for students. Since last fall, the Farmington School District has put an iPad in the hands of every student in the district. The Lakeville School District is working on its own one-to-one iPad rollout.

Those kinds of tools can give students access to a vast amount of information any time of day or night. And that can mean big changes in the classroom.

That's why one of the group's focuses has been providing the training teachers need to make the best possible use of the new technology.

"We're really trying to have a balanced approach," said Steve Troen, the district's director of teaching and learning.

The district hasn't yet talked specifically about how it wants to get students access to technology. Troen said the committee's goal is to give school board members a framework and some recommendations, then let them figure out how they want to make it all work.

"It's just kind of looking at that big picture of, how are we teaching kids today?" Taschner said. "We have access to technology which gives us all this information."

The committee will continue to meet through June and make a recommendation to the school board later this summer.

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