How other high schools navigate tech-based classes
From monitored screens to complete freedom, public and private high schools are using different strategies to cope with computers in class.
January 5, 2014
Both locally and nationally, schools are grappling with questions of how to best use technology without turning classrooms into free time for other electronic pursuits.
An informal Boiling Point survey found that some schools exercise strict control over computers while others – like Shalhevet – offer more freedom, hoping dynamic classrooms and computer-specific activities will keep students on task while on their screens. And there are also schools that don’t allow computers in class at all.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has been working on a $1 billion program that plans eventually to provide all 600,000 students and teachers with iPads over the course of a few years. Forty-one schools have implemented the program so far. Internet filters are in place on all campuses to make sure students visit only approved sites.
According to the Los Angeles Times, however, students have easily managed to remove the filters and can access any website they choose. LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy nearly resigned last month after criticism about this and other aspects of the iPad program, though in the end his contract was renewed through June 2016.
YULA Boys High School has implemented a program similar to the LAUSD’s, but has been working hard to avoid computer misuse, taking much wider precautions for preventing any misuse of the Mac in class. For the past five years, every YULA student has been given an Apple MacBook, which they return for the summer.
Like Shalhevet, YULA has installed school-specific software on all computers. But many websites are blocked, and the IT director of the school, Shawn Clary, is able to monitor everything a student is doing on a laptop through a tool called LanSchool. YULA’s administration also has the authority to delete all information from a student’s Mac if they detect that he is using the computer for non-school purposes, he said, and even to confiscate the laptop.
Several YULA students contacted by the Boiling Point had seen erasures and confiscations more than once.
“It’s usually just a case of a student breaking the same rule repeatedly, like playing a game or attempting to circumvent the content filter,” said Mr. Clary, who added that monitoring student computer screens was not his main job.
Beverly Hills High School, a public school, does not supply laptops, but it permits the use of computers during class while monitoring all activity that students perform on their devices, according to freshman Tal Anava.
Then there’s Hamilton High, the Los Angeles public high school on South Robertson Boulevard. According to sophomore and former Shalhevet student Rebecca Mazouz, Hamilton does not permit the use of electronics at all during class. Students take notes the old fashioned way, with notebooks and binders.
This is fine with Rebecca, who considers computers distracting.
“You remember the information better,” Rebecca said. “When it comes to studying I find it easier, since there are no difficulties or distractions.”
Perhaps the school whose policy is most like Shalhevet’s is SAR Academy, a Modern Orthodox high school in Riverdale, N.Y. SAR students have been using MacBooks, Chromebooks, and iPads for the past few years, without blocking mechanisms. Students have complete access to the internet and games during class.
Perhaps surprisingly, most students interviewed were happy with whatever their school’s policy was. Two YULA students said they didn’t mind the restrictions because the classroom software was so helpful — though not everyone uses it to the best advantage.
YULA sophomore David Hanelin, who has had his MacBook since last year, loves learning in a technological environment.
“For example, in a science class, we can use a USB microscope that connects to our computers, showing us images close up,” said David.
Yair Fax, YULA senior and brother of Shalhevet freshman Ezra Fax, said computers had a different effect on different students.
“I think it all depends on two things,” said Yair. “A, if the teacher is able to integrate it well into her curriculum, and B, on the maturity of the students. It can be extremely effective unless the students are not mature.”
SAR student Deena Nerwen said the program there has been useful in a variety of subjects.
“I have used laptops a lot in my Tanakh class,” Deena said, “and I know some people really like being able to store all their files online, and being able to share their documents and work together with others on them.
“I think that we have a good balance right now,” she added. “We don’t use laptops every day and in every class. But I appreciate the effort that SAR is making to use more technology, and I think that teachers are working hard on learning ways to incorporate it into their classes.”