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April 2, 2014

Educators discuss applications for e-learning

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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Educators discuss applications for e-learning
Students at Birmingham Covington School watch a live feed from Seattle-based WE Day March 22. The kids learned that their fundraising efforts to buy tractors and water pumps for a village in Zambia would be matched with donations from major corporations.

There are countless occasions when it’s necessary for parents to ruffle their child’s feathers and demand that they shut the computer off, put the smartphone away or use the tablet another time.

But when it comes to homework, is it possible that those handy devices — normally used for play — could double as study tools as well?

The answer is a resounding “yes,” according to Autumn Templeton, director of the Reading and Language Arts Centers’ Bloomfield Hills location. The educational center works to help students and teachers alike strengthen their reading skills, and they have tutoring centers all over metro Detroit, including Grosse Pointe, Shelby Township and West Bloomfield.

Templeton said she always takes notice when a student talks about using a new website or app to help them better retain their lessons. Many of those programs, she explained, are just newer spins on old learning concepts.

“Quizlet is kind of replacing flash cards,” she said. “It makes learning vocabulary easier and interactive because it puts it in a game format.”

She explained that Quizlet is used in a variety of ways to organize content so students can match correct answers to possible test questions or vocabulary words. Sometimes, she said, teachers will actually create Quizlet games themselves and share them with students to ensure they’re studying the right stuff.

She also mentioned the programs Paper Notes and Mental Note, which allow users to scan handwritten notes or textbook content and customize it in a digital format for better organization and more efficient studying.

“For those who have a hard time with text, in general, note-taking is really just another form of text. It’s equally hard to manipulate. But if you take a picture of text and wipe out all the fluff, you can sort through the interesting information and get to the important information. More white space, adding pictures and that sort of thing can make a difference,” she said.

Programs like that are combined with specialized websites, webcam meetings, chat rooms, texting and more to bring homebound students a complete educational experience with MyVirtualAcademy.com. Aaron Brown is the director of school development with the online home-school program, which works with 10 school districts in Michigan and more than 200 students to keep students learning while at home. Whether it’s because of a family’s choice to home-school or because of health reasons or expulsion, Brown explained that technology can be used to supplement a classroom experience in many ways.

“There’s a lot of website use, Skype meetings, Schoology — which is kind of like Facebook but for education, where students talk with each other on discussion boards or with teachers. They can call, text, instant message us. Or if they’re by us, they can stop by and use the computers here,” said Brown. “Online learning is not the right option for every student, but every student should have that option.”

As part of the online learning process, Brown said, the certified teachers and staff at My Virtual Academy try to promote healthy online habits. While many adults warn students of the dangers lurking in cyberspace, as far as predators, phishing scams and more, the academy teaches young people to use the Web to their advantage.

“They’re using (devices) every day, so why take it out of the classroom? We show students that you can do it in a positive way. Like with Facebook — people always say be careful of what you put online. But we want to flip it and use it to build a positive portfolio of what they’re doing to contribute to the community,” said Brown.

Technology and community outreach are two concepts that have been perfected by the students over at Birmingham Covington School. Under the direction of Rick Joseph and Pauline Roberts, fifth- and sixth-grade students utilize a number of tech tools every day to do good in their community and around the world.

From smartphone-adaptable QR codes to promote recycling and energy efficiency for Birmingham businesses, to Skype meetings that help fundraising efforts to purchase tractors and water pumps for people in Zambia, the BCS students are encouraged daily to utilize the tools they already use for play to do a little bit of good.

Roberts describes herself as something of a technology convert. The math and science teacher wasn’t always a supporter of laptops or tablets in the classroom, but she eventually came around.

“The first time a student came to me with a question (about a device) and I had to say, ‘I don’t know,’ that was a big day for me. I said to myself, ‘It’s OK that I don’t know something. We can all learn from each other,’” said Roberts.

Students now bring their laptops, tablets and other gadgets to the classroom daily to help with school work. Roberts even designs lesson plans around the use of technology: she recently created a sort of game where students had to complete missions to learn about water sourcing in rural, poverty-stricken areas.

The kids got the word out on social media, created promotional videos on YouTube, created fliers and brochures with art software, and so much more. The execution of the lesson is, in itself, a lesson in efficacy with growing technology, Roberts said.

“They’re beginning to figure out which tools are best for which jobs,” she said. “They engage in discussions to decide which tool to use. It’s really about digital literacy and what’s available and what will give them the most bang for their buck for the task at hand.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.