Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Paperless education in a digital world

In recent months I have read various education articles and blogs expressing concerns about how schools are stuck in a time warp—teaching with outdated 20th century tools—blackboards and chalk, traditional textbooks, photocopied handouts, etc. These tools were generally effective when I was a student—but times have since changed and with the advancement of technology, education continues to change at warp speed.

Reference books like encyclopedias and dictionaries are quickly becoming the dinosaurs of our time, as students instead turn to online resources to research information in a fast-paced world where events are often documented in real time on Twitter and Facebook.

Today’s students have grown up with technology—and they are comfortable using it—from playing digital games on Nintendo DS as children to creating videos on Smartphones to share with friends via social media as teens. Not surprisingly, studies suggest that when technology is used as an educational tool, students become more actively engaged in the learning process.

When our students graduate and head to college, it is likely they will be required to submit assignments and other coursework electronically via Google Docs or another document sharing program rather than handing in papers as I did in college. They may access their professors’ lessons online rather than in a lecture hall. Knowing this, I applaud our many teachers who have embraced technology and are utilizing it in the classroom on a regular basis.

In Watervliet, we have a variety of technology—including portable laptops, interactive whiteboards, computer labs in the elementary school and the high school—available to teach skills that are relevant and valuable in today’s world. By using digital tools in class today, our students will be better prepared for the reality of post-secondary education and tomorrow’s careers.

Paperless education is more than a cost-saving measure

Large industries and small businesses alike have been moving increasingly towards a paperless system for two main reasons: it reduces operating costs, which makes good financial sense; and it saves trees reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which is good for the planet.

I understand that implementing a fully paperless approach may not be entirely realistic for schools, but keep in mind that instructional technology does offer an effective way to cut costs and maximize resources. After being designated the most fiscally stressed school district in the state last year, the cost savings alone would seem reason enough for Watervliet to embrace a paperless education to the extent possible.

From my perspective as an educator though, adopting a paperless approach in education is less about saving the environment or cutting costs (although both are important!) and is more about evolving our classrooms and teaching the 21st century skills that our students clearly need to be successful in college and the careers of tomorrow.

Upcoming Smart Schools Bond Vote

Our district and others around the state soon may have an opportunity to expand instructional technology in classrooms through the state’s Smart Schools Bond Act proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The proposition calls for the state to invest up to $2 billion in schools for classroom technology and high-speed internet connectivity to equalize opportunities for children to learn, high-tech security features and enhanced or modernized facilities to accommodate pre-kindergarten programs.

If voters approve the Smart Schools Bond Act, which will appear as Proposition 3 on the November 4 general election ballot, each district will receive a share of the funding based on a state aid formula. It is estimated that Watervliet schools would receive $1.4 million under the proposal.

Districts then will be required to submit a “Smart Schools Investment Plan” to a Smart Schools Review Board, comprised of the state education commissioner, the state budget director, and the chancellor of the State University of New York. The plan will detail how the district will use the Smart Schools Bond Act funds. Grant funding will be released to individual districts upon approval of the plans.

Projects developed with Smart Schools grants will be fully funded by the state with no local financial contribution required from the school district. If the referendum passes, equipment purchases would have to be made via a cooperative bidding process.