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DRAPER — This year, when students pack up for classes at Juan Diego Catholic High School, they throw in a laptop or iPad with the pens, pencils, and paper. In August, after months of debate and a year of trial and error, the school started using a blended learning approach to teaching.
In this environment, students often take tests, quizzes, and class notes on their devices while teachers lecture. A debate might begin in the classroom and continue online. Administrators like Marianne Rozsahegyi think that fosters inclusion. “All of a sudden, everybody is engaged, not just the five who like to talk but everybody is engaged and it’s really wonderful to have that rich dialogue,” says Rozsahegyi.
Two years ago, Juan Diego began a serious dialogue among teachers and administrators about the role of digital devices in the school’s classrooms. Teacher Kyra Hester works with struggling learners who often lose focus in the classroom. Hester says, “In the beginning it was we don’t want the technology in our classroom because will they use appropriately? And so, of course, that’s always the question — are you playing games or are you taking notes?”
The introduction of devices into our classrooms has really turned us into a total learning community. Teachers are learning side by side with their students. Students are helping each other to be the right kind of person with devices.
–Marianne Rozsahegyi, Juan Diego Catholic High School administrator
In the end, Juan Diego realized that students “live” in a digital world and the benefits of joining that community far outweighed the negatives. In fact, Rozsahegyi says, “The introduction of devices into our classrooms has really turned us into a total learning community. Teachers are learning side by side with their students. Students are helping each other to be the right kind of person with devices.”
Tech savvy students like Halston Van der Sluys are helping staff and students to navigate the digital divide. “A lot of students need help switching from paper to digital. I get to show them and walk them through step-by-step of what to do,” says Van der Sluys.
Challenges still remain, like how to make sure students don’t get distracted online and go to sites that aren’t appropriate for use in the classroom. Western Civilizations teacher Vanessa Jacobs worries that students reading her textbook online “will get in the habit of skimming, not reading.”
Teachers are learning, too, by analyzing the instant feedback they get when students are quizzed and tested online. Rozsahegyi says, “You can see it graphically so you can see, oh, 40 percent did not do this so I have to reteach or I have to do something different.”
Juan Diego has already seen a difference in students who are normally reluctant to speak out in class or even approach a teacher with a question. Freshman Katelyn Schreder says, “They’re kind of like shy in class, but then if you work on a project with them or you’re on Google, then they have so much to say and it’s just a lot easier to hear people’s opinions on things and their thoughts on different things.”
Hester has also been encouraged by her students’ performance using a blended learning approach. They’re communicating with their teachers on the internet, their organizational skills are improving, as is their writing and reading. “Technology is the wave of the future, we can embrace it or we can fight it, and we’re choosing to embrace it,” says Hester.