Binghamton University program uses laptops to change teaching, learning methods


            Binghamton University professors Paul-William and C. Beth Burch want to see more laptops in middle schools and have made it their personal goal to see that every student in their local school district is armed with a wireless notebook computer….and teachers love the idea!

            Getting the laptops into the kids’ hands is all part of a program called Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2), which partners Binghamton University and the Binghamton City School District (BCSD). Funded by a $1.3 million dollar grant from the New York State Education Department, E2T2 integrates technology into instruction to improve the learning and teaching methods of middle school math and English students.

            The long-term goal, according to Beth Burch, is “to create a climate where students are engaged in learning so they come to school, stay in school and do well in school. We want them to be better prepared for high school and we want them to be able to engage their environment through technology.”

            The grant has funded 120 iBook laptop computers and dozens of specially equipped carts at Binghamton’s East and West middle schools and the Broome County Urban League. In addition to the wireless laptops, each cart has a wireless hub, projector, printer and digital cameras, creating a mobile, wireless environment.

            Students can type essays in Microsoft Word, take digital pictures and create slideshows in iPhoto, design and present PowerPoint presentations, conduct Internet-based research, generate and understand graphs and charts in Excel, and create and edit movies in iMovie.

            As the children study with the help of their iBooks, the Burches study them; specifically, how the new technology changes the way they learn, and ultimately how the process will affect their test scores in math and English. Many teachers note that students who tend to be the most disruptive also tend to be the most productive when engaged in the E2T2 program.

            John Whalen, a sixth grade teacher at BCSD’S East Middle School, has integrated E2T2 into his classroom and is already witnessing improved attendance and participation. “My students really look forward to using the computers and are more focused when they are used on a given assignment,” he said.

            According to Whalen, positive effects may also be evident outside the classroom. “Students are given the opportunity to use state-of-the-art computers which are used in the professional world on a daily basis,” he said. “They are using the computers to display knowledge, share information and enter data, the same skills expected of them in the workplace.”

            The partnership also involves Binghamton University graduate students who are preparing to become teachers. Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) students Christopher Compson and Rachel Bell serve as research project assistants for the E2T2 grant. It has given them an intimate understanding of the schools where they work and has increased their contact time with students and teachers.

            “As a result, I have many ideas about how I will integrate technology into my own classroom to prepare my students to enter the work world or the world of higher education — ready to use the tools necessary to excel in either environment,” Bell said.

            “(The graduate students) have had the unique opportunity to be ‘in’ the classroom without being ‘of’ the classroom — that is, they can observe and learn and then draw apart and reflect,” said Paul-William Burch. “They have the luxury to be somewhat objective, but they are still able to be right there and work directly with students.”

            In return, the graduate students have helped teachers learn about new technology, conducting mini-sessions on how to incorporate technology into lesson plans. In addition, the graduate students provide much-needed technical support.

            “Teachers have cited this as critical to their use and success with the computers because constant, available troubleshooting relieves them of the feeling that they are left alone with unfamiliar, and at times confounding, technology,” said Compson.

            But the training is just one facet of the support E2T2 offers teachers. In addition, after-school workshops, a daily listserv, on-line participation in Blackboard, and technical and educational support provide building blocks for teachers.

            So, while students learn computer skills that will help them prepare for the future, teachers learn to combine curriculum demands with the increasing influence of technology.

Last Updated: 9/17/13