Child development in new digital learning age

Toni Hunt

The College of Education, Health and Human Services continues to expose many students and teachers to the new elements of a technological learning approach with the AT&T Classroom.

Tom McNeal, the project director for the classroom, said Dale Cook supervised the creation of the AT&T Classroom in 1998, which went by the name Ameritech Electronic University School. He said Cook’s vision for the classroom was to introduce students and teachers to innovative ways of learning and demonstrating traditional information.

“He told them this is a great place for teachers and students to come in and learn about technology over a long term,” McNeal said. “(It’s) not just a one day workshop and you go away and forget about it. They use this for five weeks.”

Annette Kratcoski, the Research Center of Educational Technology director, said the AT&T Classroom welcomes classes K-12 to come to the research laboratory and use open-ended tools that support digital workflow.

“We believe the experience that we offer helps develop 21st century active (skills),” Kratcoski said. “And (we also offer) technology expertise that can really transfer across many type of tools.”

Kratcoski said when working with the teachers to design lesson plans with the devices, they focus on enhancing the four C’s of 21st century skills.

She said in the new digital age, the C’s are the bases of education, which involve collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.

McNeal said in the classroom, there are laptops, iPads, iPod Touches and a projector to support the applications that the lessons are on. LEGO WeDo kits are also used for the students to learn simple machining, computer programing and engineering. The room is equipped with easy to move furniture for the students so they can work in pairs and groups with the devices.

“When they first started, they had the big desktop computers,” McNeal said. “As the years (have) been going on, they’ve been getting smaller and smaller.”

He said the smaller the technology gets, the more accessible it is for the children. He said it proves to be a good idea for children to be able to learn how to use these tools to work on any project anywhere they are.

He said the applications that are used in the AT&T room are very affordable, if not free for the students and teachers, to continue their learning outside of the classroom.

“We show them free apps that they can use at home or at school,” McNeal said. “We want them to know (about) the variety of apps out there that will show them different ways of doing the same thing.”

Kratcoski said a large number of applications are tested in the classroom to fit everyone’s teaching styles. Honors students, teachers doing research, pre-med students and even high school students volunteer to understand the devices used in the classroom. She said many of the students that volunteer have been in the program as students themselves.

Anna McDade, a senior integrated language arts major who volunteers in the AT&T Classroom, said being introduced to the technology as a third grader helped her out later in life.

“Learning how to use (technology) as a student in a class, whether it was typing, or doing whatever, (helped),” she said. “I’m a very fast typer and I feel like that probably had something to do with (the technology). I think getting out of classroom and getting into a different setting and being able to learn in a differently setting was definitely helpful.”

McDade, along with many other students who were exposed to the technology of the AT&T Classroom while in K-12, said coming to the laboratory for her learning sessions helped her make the decision in coming to Kent State.

“We even have some students who come back and enter Kent State University,” McNeal said. “They said ‘I got started here back when I was in the fifth grade’ and they come and say ‘You’re the reason why I chose Kent State University, because we enjoyed your time here.’”

McNeal said the technology in the AT&T Classroom is a forever evolving project. He hopes to see a 3-D printer in action in the classrooms.

The next session begins Monday, Oct. 19. If interested in volunteering, follow the AT&T Classroom’s blog, Twitter and like them on Facebook.

Toni Hunt is the education, health and human services reporter. Contact her at [email protected].