But how do you prepare students to use new tools while still ensuring their basic skills are solid?
For Joel Pedersen, superintendent of the Cardinal school district, balance is key. The district has clearly embraced technology, becoming one of the first in Iowa to issue every student in middle school and high school a laptop. That changed in 2012 to the Kuno tablets, and the district introduced a mobile app the same year.
This past spring, Cardinal students used Skype to talk live with an orphanage in Uganda. They spent a half-hour talking to people on a different continent eight hours ahead of southeast Iowa.
“We really feel like technology in some regards prepares students for the 21st-century skills that we need,” said Pedersen. “But technology cannot take the place of quality instruction.”
For Cardinal, the tablet blended those approaches better than other options. It allowed students to use software that was aimed at their education while screening other content out. There's another advantage as well, since it can help with students managing their assignments.
Technology can be a generational issue with younger people generally more willing to take on the challenge of mastering something new. That poses an additional hurdle for schools, which may have teachers with decades of experience in everything but technology.
Pedersen said that's where the district's leadership has to step up. Providing people with the tools doesn't mean much unless you are also willing to give people the chance to learn how to use them.
“The leadership in the school has to embrace technology. They have to be sure support is available,” he said. He added that even the support means little if the district isn't willing to ensure it is used.
For a lot of people, that's part of the concern. There's a limit to the trust given technology in schools. Everyone agrees it is necessary, but something interesting happens when you ask people about it: A clear distrust emerges. People fear schools are abandoning basic skills in a race for a technological edge.