Richmond students use technology in a variety of ways to support their learning.
Photo courtesy Richmond School District (Kyle J. Gomes)

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

No longer seen as a distraction, technology devices like iPads are now viewed as an important educational tool that broadens the range of possibilities in a classroom.

This shift in use has also been accompanied by a name change—once called technology, this topic is now known as digital literacy according to Ellen Reid, a teacher consultant for digital literacy and Applied Design, Skills and Technologies with Richmond School District.

“One of the other things we think about often is the difference between consuming and creating when working with learners,” says Reid. “There’s an emphasis on being creative and using critical thinking.”

Tools can be tweaked based on students’ ages and the subject matter. And there’s a second layer to the process that re-frames an iPad, for example, as a learning device instead of something that’s just for fun.

“We’re building the toolbox ideally, in Kindergarten (and) Grade 1, with a few solid tools to use. Then we’re trying to build awareness so they can choose the right tool for a given task later on. We want kids to be able to choose themselves if they want to, because there’s a variety of things available to them,” says Reid.

Every elementary school has a digital literacy lab, often a mobile cart with MacBook laptops or iPad carts. Secondary schools have computer labs with desktop computers for more complex processes like coding and publishing. 

But Chris Loat, the district’s curriculum coordinator for technology, says that no games are installed on these devices. Educators are aware that students experience a different sort of screen time at home, he adds, and don’t want to emulate that at school.

And the pandemic has only added to most people’s screen time, sometimes making it harder to use devices at school.

“I had (one) teacher say she is concerned about that in her classroom, so she’s not using as much technology anymore, and that’s fair enough,” says Loat. “But I think in times when we’re not in COVID, because we are trying to promote the creative aspect of using technology, there’s value in that.”

The cost to buy devices, software, and applications is split between schools and the district.

“The district pushes out a suite of apps provided for (everyone),” says Loat. “If a school says they want to try something in particular, they would buy it themselves. Then the schools would have that app at their disposal to use in future years.”

Among students’ favourite projects are 3D printers, green screens, and digital storytelling using iPads. The district’s 3D printing project provides the technology to school libraries for integration into the curriculum.

“The next step is (to ask) what are the affordances of that technology, what does a 3D printer allow us to do that we couldn’t do already?” says Reid. “There’s lots of things kids are making: missing pieces for games, characters for stories.”

Nineteen classes in the district, across 10 schools, currently participate in the district’s challenge-based learning project. With one device per student or per pair, classes solve larger problems. For instance, one class created a field guide for Garden City Park, posting QR codes around the park for people to scan and learn about different elements like a tree or a pond.

Reid and Loat feel fortunate to work in a district that prioritizes digital literacy.

“Not all districts have the digital literacy tools that we do,” says Loat. “I think we’re pretty fortunate.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Richmond Sentinel, Richmond, British Columbia. See article HERE.

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