Technology @ ICS
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be using the ICS blog to address some challenges teachers, parents, and students have come across through use of an ever-evolving and always daunting platform: technology. You’ll hear my thoughts on tech at ICS and what goals and safeguards we have in place to help your children be discerning, competent internet users.
Perhaps most importantly, though, you’ll be hearing from ICS parents Mike Bittenbender and Mark Carnahan, who each come with extensive backgrounds and viewpoints in technology. In what often feels like a lonely and isolated road to travel when it comes to creating a technology “plan” for your family, their insights may remind you that most 21st century American parents are in the same boat, and there are resources available to help you!
As the Library Media Specialist at ICS, I have always, always been a lover of technology. I remember distinctly the fateful day in 1998 when my parents brought home a bulky, cow print box with the day’s purchase inside: a Gateway desktop computer. And so began the battle that spanned years—my deep-seeded belief that my need to use dial up AOL to instant message my friends trumped my mom’s need to wait for a phone call from her sister. So uncool, mom.
That problem seems so trite compared to the technology problems of today. That clunky computer was a privilege in our house, a bartering chip used to procure beloved screen time so I could pass along angsty song lyrics to my friends. For today’s kids, however, internet in any form is almost a right. Papers are typed and not written. Research is conducted, in large part, online. Google Classroom, SevenStar, and ParentsWeb are used daily to access and turn in assignments, learn a new language, check their grades. Technology today is a fact of life, it has changed the way we think and connect with others, there is so much bad mixed in with so much good, and the scariest part? The kids know how to use it all better than us.
At ICS, we don’t use technology to stay up with the current educational trends. We recognize that some concepts simply cannot be taught with technology, however, technology is a tool we can utilize to involve students in the learning process. We implement technology in our classrooms for three main reasons:
- To prepare students academically, mentally, and spiritually for a world where they will not just be expected, but required, to be proficient in technology.
There are a lot of ways to use technology, and students in higher education and careers will be expected to know a lot of it, or at least have a niche in which they are experts. We want to prepare students for the education and careers they desire by introducing them early to the software they will need to use. Further, though, students will be exposed to information that is harmful, wrong, or a combination of the two. We want to teach our students how to protect themselves, assess the reliability of information, and respond appropriately when confronted with the pitfalls of the internet.
- To diversify our students’ options of what, where, and how they consume information through online programs that allow for individualized instruction and/or distance learning.
Programs such as Google Classroom allow students to keep up with their education in real time from afar. Through worst-case scenarios like extended illness or exciting opportunities like Immanuel Christian High School’s vision for a study abroad unit, Google Classroom allows its users to track with the class. Storing assignments on the cloud means that paper won’t get lost in the shuffle from classroom to backpack to home…and the same assignment can be accessed via your dad’s smartphone in the carpool line or your grandma’s desktop when you’re visiting over spring break. Similarly, the introduction of iPads have allowed our younger students in particular more opportunities to access more eBooks, play learning-based games, and dip their toes into research with heavy instruction and involvement from their teachers.
- To utilize assistive technologies that will improve the educational experience for students with learning differences.
Not everyone can pick up Crime & Punishment the first time and have success (someone like me, for instance). Auditory learners or students with dyslexia can, through programs like the Read&Write extension have text online read aloud to them, help sounding out difficult words, and search tools to help them more quickly identify terms. There are assistive keyboards and text-to-speech extensions as well that can significantly assist students with processing delays. As teachers, we are forever looking for ways to challenge our students in a way that accommodates their learning differences without frustrating them into “hating school”.
While I have been heavily singing the praises of students and technology, I (and many of my ICS colleagues) recognize its pitfalls. According to the statistics portal Statista, 15% of American parents polled state that they allow their children over five hours of screen time a day. Studies have linked an overabundance of technology to mental and physical challenges that run the gambit from neck strain to narcissism. Our kids are one wrong typed letter or mouse click away from offensive, misleading, or inappropriate content whenever they pick up a device. To combat this, ICS has three main safeguards to protect students against harm online – our Responsible Use Policy, Online Filtering, and Teacher/Peer Oversight.
- ICS’s Responsible Use Policy (RUP)
The RUP is updated annually to adjust to changing technologies. Every year, students sign the policy to affirm that they have read and understand the safeguards put in place to protect them from harmful content. The RUP can be accessed here and includes basic rules such as –
- Students may use the internet only with the permission and supervision of a teacher.
- May not Install any games or software.
- Protect their own privacy and the privacy of peers by keeping passwords to themselves.
This list lays the groundwork for what is expected of an ICS student in part to protect the devices from misuse, but mostly to protect students from being exposed to inappropriate content or being tempted to misuse technology for purposes that stray from academics.
- Online Filtering
ICS employs router-level content filtering, safe-search policies on leading search engines, pop-up blockers, and restricted mode on sites like Youtube. We are constantly reevaluating and tweaking our safeguards in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000. Our IT Specialist, Harry Hubbard, is currently in talks with state-of-the-art filtering software companies to ensure that our high school students are protected from harmful content whether they are using ICS devices on campus or at home.
- Teacher/Peer Oversight
Filters will fail, which is why there is just no substitute for the relationships built between teachers and students. Our teachers closely monitor device use by walking around the room while teaching and/or positioning desks so that each student’s screen is public at all times, cutting down on the temptation students may have to visit sites that aren’t school related. Further, we maintain a “see something, say something” policy which emboldens students to come to us whenever they begin feeling uncomfortable online. A couple of times, I’ve had students shyly report inappropriate pop-ups or foul language, and I always tell them the same thing: they are never in trouble for accidentally stumbling across harmful content online. They are, however, responsible for how they handle the situation in coming to an adult immediately. In doing so, they protect other classmates from being exposed.
Don’t forget to check back over the next few weeks to hear from Mark Carnahan and Mike Bittenbender about their insights on safe, healthy technology use at home. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your own tips on how you help your kids make wise choices online!
Written by: Erika McKellop, ICS Library Media Specialist