According to Daniel DeBlois, the supervisor of information technology for Bethel's public schools, technology hasn't just changed how students learn. It has also effected the type of questions that are asked in the classroom.
“A teacher used to be the person in front of the room that knew all the answers and it's no longer that way,” DeBlois said. “Now she or he may poise a question or a problem and it becomes more the technique of solving that problem. Rather than just spitting back an answer to a question like, 'What is the capital of Arkansas?' Today, it's more about things we want to know about Arkansas. If you were doing business in Arkansas, what kind of business would work best there?”
He added, “I think that's what technology has changed for students – you really don't have what you might call the cookbook method of learning.”
To help ensure Bethel students are able to take full advantage of advances in technology, the school system has created a 64 page technology plan for 2012 through 2015. Schools across the state are required to make these plans and submit them to the state in order to receive federal technology funding said DeBlois.
Bethel's plan provides a detailed road map for implementing technology in Bethel Public Schools over the next three years. The plan has been designed to help make sure that Bethel teachers and students take full advantage of available technological resources.
Among the goals of the plan are to make all the school's in town wireless – currently the wireless networks at Bethel Middle School and Berry School are not complete.
The plan also calls for Bethel schools to have one-to-one computing, which means there will be one device capable of accessing the internet for each student enrolled in the school system.
“We're getting away from just saying computers,” said DeBlois. “Nowadays, it's more about some type of device. Smartphones can be used to access information as can iPads and Kindles, etc.”
DeBlois said the goal of one to one computing is to have technology available to students the entire time they are at school.
“We want them to have access to technology all the time in the classroom. We don't want it to be a scheduled time or an event when they actually get a chance to sit on a computer. We want it to be sort of like what they have at home,” he said.
To that end, at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year Bethel High School started a program called BYOT which is an acronym for Bring Your Own Technology. The program encourages students with laptops, iPads, smartphones or other web surfing devices to bring them to school and to utilize them during class.
Allowing cell phones in class might sound like a recipe for constant texting and distraction but DeBlois said allowing them provides many learning opportunities
“When the teacher has a question and we don't have a lot of electronics in that classroom they can just take out their cell phone and wallah, they can browse the internet,” he said. He added permitting the devices teaches students how to use them appropriately.
“We don't want to keep those kind of things away from them we want to guide them to use them more productively,” he said.
Bethel High School's policy of encouraging students to bring phones into class is a departure from many other schools which ban electronic devices altogether. However, DeBlois said more and more schools are implementing similar programs, “because everybody is beginning to see that it's much more reasonable to have this.”
Next year Bethel will be expanding BYOT – in addition to high school students the program will be extended to middle school students next fall.
DeBlois said Bethel's three year technology plan was designed to meet the constant changes of the technology world.
“Things change very, very rapidly in technology and we have to be able to be on the look out for all the newest things not just because they're gadgets but because they're useful,” DeBlois said. He added, “I think students themselves help us find these things. We have to keep up with this because there's a lot of tools out there that can be very, very helpful in learning. I don't think by the time we finish the three years of this Tech Plan we'll even recognize what we were doing this year. It's just amazing how fast things change. Four or five years ago there was not even the word iPad out there.”