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Monday, January 28, 2013

Editorial - Teaching tablets in Cheshire

As published in the Record Journal Friday January 25, 2013

Cheshire Town Council is behind the times in criticizing Board of Education members for utilizing iPads during meetings.

Recently, Cheshire’s BOE commenced a paperless initiative in a commendable effort to modernize and better implement contemporary technology throughout the education district. Replacing bulky meeting packets with digital tablets also represents savings in paper and manpower costs, though iPad prices assumedly negate much of that.

Still, government officials sound out-of-date in questioning use of handheld computerized gadgets. BOE members would be doing Cheshire great disservice if, as one councilman suggested and editorial cartoonist John Grabar depicted on today’s page, they employed iPads leisurely amidst meetings. We see no reason to suspect that Hulu or Angry Birds will prove so distracting that academic business becomes ignored.

Concerns about confidentiality of wireless devices also are unfounded, as these tablets are perfectly secure as long they’re not misused. (We partially allude, of course, to the dreaded misclicked “Reply to all” email button).

While long-term savings on switching to expensive iPads are dubious, the value is in hands-on understanding of tablets’ educational potential. Town councilor Andy Falvey claimed no difference between bringing them to a BOE meeting versus a laptop. He has missed the point.

Current and future students likely will not use laptops in classrooms. Those computers are bulky compared with small, thin tablets. iPads and similar models provide pupils enormous learning possibilities — interactive lessons and all of history’s information— without being so big that they block views or become unwieldy.

Moreover, it’s important for the BOE to experience personally what tablets can offer. This board will make decisions as to what extent tech is applied throughout town schools. Cheshire High School already has begun encouraging learning through technology, with Dodd Middle School set to proceed similarly. It’s a “natural progression,” aptly observed School Superintendent Greg Florio of such modern measures (R-J, 1-19). For that progression to be as smooth and effective as possible, BOE representatives must grasp thoroughly what they are permitting students use of in classrooms.

While not as anti-iPad as his colleague, council member Tom Ruocco stated that he simply prefers working with paper. That’s a sentiment many of us can comprehend, particularly readers who favor tactile books over e-texts.

But regarding classrooms, the future is undeniably digital. Students and teachers have much to gain in this tech-and-academic evolution. And for Cheshire schools to keep pace with industry advancements, BOE officials must be conversant with the operational and educational aspects of the latest handheld technology.

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