JSU conference helps teachers keep up with educational tools
by Laura Gaddy
Jun 06, 2013 | 6147 views |  0 comments | 275 275 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State University assistant professor Emily Sims speaks to area elementary and middle school teachers during a technology conference Thursday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Jacksonville State University assistant professor Emily Sims speaks to area elementary and middle school teachers during a technology conference Thursday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
JACKSONVILLE — Wellborn Elementary School teacher Lisa Holtman can track the progression of technology in education by recalling her 30-year career.

When Holtman began teaching in 1983, Wellborn had a computer lab. Later, each of the school’s classrooms was outfitted with a lone computer and then came Internet labs, she said. Today the veteran teacher is learning how to use smartphones and tablet computers, which began changing education shortly after they hit the market about five years ago.

“We can’t just close our eyes to all those changes,” Holtman said. “It’s ever-evolving and teachers have to stay on top of things.”

She spent time this week with roughly 270 other educators at Jacksonville State University for CORE Academy, a three-day conference that wrapped up Thursday.

“Things like this are extremely necessary,” said John Hammett, dean of JSU’s College of Education and Professional Studies. “This is an opportunity for professional development for teachers to come in and look at what other teachers in the region are doing.”

In the past five years, K-12 schools have undergone a digital transformation as districts have incorporated laptops, tablets and smartphones into classrooms. The transition began in Calhoun County three years ago when Piedmont City Schools started issuing laptops to each student in grades four through 12.

During the last school year, the Calhoun County Board of Education invited students to bring their own mobile devices to class. Next year Oxford City Schools and Jacksonville City Schools will roll out initiatives to outfit students with take-home computer tablets.

Jacksonville Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell said the conference comes at a perfect time for his school system. Seventy teachers from his system attended the CORE Academy.

“The topics are so relevant for what we are doing,” Campbell said.

While administrators move forward with plans to implement popular technology initiatives and teachers learn how to make them work, some are wondering whether the the digital transition is coming too quickly.

Jacksonville High School geometry teacher Seth Taylor is entering his fourth year as an educator. He uses technology for education extensively and said he supports the transition, but he said it also concerns him.

“It’s moving too fast to be effective,” said Taylor, who taught a class at the conference.

Campbell and other area superintendents have said they are working to ease educators’ concerns about the transition through professional development provided at workshops like the CORE Academy.

The event included more than 50 classes and instruction from employees from the technology company Apple Inc., JSU professors and area educators who have successfully integrated technology in the classroom. Sessions touched on incorporating gaming into education, using technology to teach math and creating interactive activities for class, among other topics.

The CORE Academy is a by-product of a Collaborative Regional Education program, which traces its beginning to the collaboration between JSU, Piedmont City Schools and Apple to outfit students with technology. It expanded to include 19 school systems as local educators realized they were encountering the same challenges and opportunities because of the technology, said Alicia Simmons, director of Planning and Research at JSU.

Saks Elementary School Principal Hector Baeza said he was attending the workshop to learn about the latest technologies and teaching strategies so he can help his teachers next year. The key challenge for educators working through the digital transition, he said, is learning how to use the technology effectively.

Teachers must be certain they are “making the technology a part of the lesson and not making the technology the lesson,” Baeza said. “If you’re open to change it doesn’t matter whether you’re a first-year teacher or a 25-year veteran.”

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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