January 24, 2014

Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Technology in Catholic high schools ‘makes things a lot easier’

Juniors Meredith Opel, left, Adam Schubach and Kevin Lemmel of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis perform an experiment to measure force using computer-interfaced technology in an honors physics class on Jan. 15. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Juniors Meredith Opel, left, Adam Schubach and Kevin Lemmel of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis perform an experiment to measure force using computer-interfaced technology in an honors physics class on Jan. 15. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

OLDENBURG—The students of Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg gather in the hallway before 8 a.m. Some chat, others review notes, read textbooks or make last-minute tweaks to essays.

It’s a normal scene that could be taken from years past, save for one difference—most of the activity is being conducted on Apple iPads.

As Catholic high schools prepare students not just in the faith but also for their future, the use of technology has become the norm in the classroom.

This story looks at some of the technology being used in Catholic high schools in the archdiocese, and how such tools help provide the best possible education to prepare students for college and beyond.

‘Familiar …, small, affordable’

In the fall of 2011, Oldenburg Academy became the first Catholic high school in the archdiocese to require students to use a particular digital device for education, says school principal Bettina Rose.

In Oldenburg Academy’s case, they chose the iPad because “people were familiar with Apple products,” Rose says. “There are some great apps [applications] out there, and [iPads] are small, affordable and still provide everything kids needed to be tech-savvy.

“Now kids can research from their desk and can look at textbooks online,” she says, although she admits “not all textbook companies are there yet.”

Jonathon Maple, business and journalism teacher at Oldenburg Academy, utilizes the iPad and other technology in his classes for students to blog, make movies, create presentations, do research and many other tasks.

“The level of engagement with the kids is so much harder without technology,” says Maple. “Now I’m more collaborative with the students, we learn together, and I get a chance to teach them best practices in how to use technology.”

‘Good digital citizens’

Those best practices are known as being a good “digital citizen.” In today’s world of easy access to inappropriate information and cyberbullying, there are additional measures that can be taken to promote good digital citizenship.

That’s why Oldenburg Academy chose to purchase and maintain the iPads rather than have students provide their own. This allows for more school control, says Sammie Hardebeck, director of technology for the school.

“Next year, we’re going to be using software that will allow me to manage all the apps remotely from my computer for all 200 iPads,” says Hardebeck of the school’s efforts to promote good digital citizenship. “It’s an evolving process.”

Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarkesville also implemented an all-iPad format in August of 2012. But the administration opted to have students provide their own iPads, alleviating the school’s book fee to make the devices more affordable for parents.

“We felt if we gave students an iPad and said, ‘You’re not allowed to do this or go there,’ it’s like giving someone a car and saying you can only drive to the end of the street,” says school president Joan Hurley. “It’s better to teach our students to be good digital citizens than to restrict them.”

But while the school will not restrict what students download on their iPads, Hurley says, they “can restrict what [the students] do here. The Apple format itself restricts” with parental controls, she adds.

Not always one-size-fits-all

Some schools have opted not to require technology devices yet. Roncalli High School in Indianapolis is an example.

“After visiting many schools, one thing became clear,” says Roncalli president Chuck Weisenbach. “None have felt like a single device works for all curriculum areas.”

Rather than using one particular device, Roncalli allows a variety of types “depending on the teacher’s preference,” says Weisenbach.

“Our physics teacher uses a great deal of devices. English uses [personal computers]. Drafting and architecture have computers they use daily. Almost all of our math teachers are teaching from iPad or Mimio, which is like a walking whiteboard,” he says.

‘Biggest advantage is interaction’

White is the new black, as “whiteboard technology” is replacing the chalkboard in many archdiocesan schools.

The technology allows an image from a computer, iPad or special tablet to be projected onto a special board. By using a stylus or just their finger, users can drag, click and copy items or write notes that can be saved as text.

Roncalli physics teacher Ben Grimes has students use handheld response system devices called “clickers” that interface with the whiteboard. He sends a question digitally to the devices, students respond and the responses display individually or as a pie chart on the whiteboard.

“For students, the biggest advantage is interaction with teachers,” he says. “I know what the students are thinking instead of me trying to read their minds. If I see 70 percent got question number six wrong, then I know I need to go back and review.”

Marsha Sanders, who teaches advanced placement language arts classes at Roncalli, likes to have students use a variety of tools, from computers to collaborative online documents to websites and more.

“They’re watching and creating and synthesizing different technologies,” she says. “It’s important to me that they learn a lot and feel engaged. All of the classes kids talk about liking are the ones where they’re engaged.”

LMS ‘makes things a lot easier’

Part of that engagement occurs through online learning management systems (LMS), which enable teachers to post quizzes, tests, homework, video- or audio-recorded lectures and reading material online where the students can access the information anytime, anywhere. Students in turn post their completed assignments, quizzes and tests online for grading.

Roncalli junior Meredith Opel says My Big Campus—an LMS used by Roncalli faculty—allows students to access the teacher’s notes from the day’s class.

“If you’re absent, you can just go online and get them, which is really helpful,” she says.

Claire Dickey, an Oldenburg Academy senior where My Big Campus is also used, summarizes her opinion of the tool.

“Bottom line, it makes things a lot easier.”

‘Kids are all about technology’

Being a senior, Claire recalls the school’s technological transition.

“It was a little rough at first because everyone had to get used to it,” she admits. “But we quickly caught on because kids are all about technology.”

Weisenbach expresses caution in regard to “keeping up with the Joneses” when it comes to educational technology.

“No matter what you’re doing,” he says, “if it’s not improving learning and engagement, I’d question why use it.”

But as seen in classrooms of Catholic high schools today, technology is the present as well as the future.

“There’s no way students will be prepared for college or work if they don’t have daily exposure to technology,” says Rose of Oldenburg Academy. “It’s an expensive investment, but once you jump into it, I don’t know of any who regretted it.” †

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