High Tech or High Touch? by Head of Upper School Ben Snyder
In recent years there has been an ongoing dialogue in the field of education around the efficacy of utilizing technology to improve teaching and learning. Nobles has been right in the middle of that conversation and at various points has implemented everything from discussions groups monitored over email to hand-held devices to assist students learning Japanese characters to teachers developing their own textbooks on iPads – and much more. Some faculty would assert that appropriate technology utilization has dramatically improved their teaching, while others have stuck with tried and true traditional methodologies.
At the heart of the continuing discussions are the philosophical underpinnings of pedagogy at Nobles – that individual teachers are best suited to determine what the most appropriate tools are to help their students learn. Beyond that, however, the approach towards the use of technology at Nobles is important to understand.
First, many years ago Nobles determined that investments in “humanware” are more important than investments in hardware and software. To help Nobles teachers discover tech opportunities and be trained appropriately in them, Nobles has established a group of teachers for whom part of their job is being an academic technology advocate (ATA) within their departments. A percentage of those people’s time is devoted to finding new and effective tools and working with teachers before, during and after the school year to train them in those tools.
Second, Nobles believes in finding the right tool for the right job. What a Spanish teacher may need in her or his classroom might be quite different than what a math teacher might need. As a result, Nobles has not (as many schools have) gone to models where there is 100 percent implementation of any specific technology. While “Smartboards” may be a good investment for some teachers and departments, it may not be for all – and so our purchasing and implementation has been more specifically targeted.
Third, Nobles should be on the leading edge, but not the bleeding edge of our use of technology. This approach has led us towards joining 30 other leading independent schools from around the world in developing Global Online Academy (http://www.globalonlineacademy.org/). Two of our teachers are now teaching GOA courses and over 20 Nobles students have taken GOA courses. Online learning will continue to have a major impact on American and global education, and it is critical for Nobles to identify where in that online world the best teaching and learning is taking place. We are also in the midst of analyzing pilot iPad programs in the middle school and ninth grade – again with the goal of identifying best practices.
Finally, the reality for young people today is that they are living in an incredibly technology rich environment. The ubiquity of mobile devices of every size and shape combined with near universal connectivity blur the lines between “real life” and “online life” – many, in fact, would assert that there are no lines anymore. Within that context it is critical for young people to develop human connections that are motivating and meaningful – to allow them to make sense of their complex social and educational environments. Those human connections – developed in class, on the field or backstage, at a service site, or in a foreign environment remain at the heart of Nobles’ approach to teaching, learning and building community – and will continue into the foreseeable future.
Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School