Blue Valley school board candidates on the issues: Technology in the classroom

Blue Valley masks

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Blue Valley school board address. Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to patrons of the district.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

What are your views about the role of technology in the classroom? Are you comfortable with the amount of time students spend on screens during the school day? Why or why not?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on this issue:

Member 4 Area

Andrew Van Der Laan

I was a big skeptic of the 1:1 Learner initiative when it first launched, and I couldn’t fathom why the school district wanted to put three extra screens in my home. Then the pandemic hit, all three of my kids attended virtual school, and I was immensely thankful the school had provided those resources. Technology was crucial to educating all of our students during the pandemic.

As we move back into the classroom, technology will continue to be key. Blended learning that integrates technology into curriculum will help prepare our kids for an increasingly digital future. We should draw a distinction between productive screen time and screen time used as a filler or a crutch and make sure that younger students in early elementary have less screen time.

Critics of educational technology often worry that students won’t learn critical thinking, problem solving, communication and other key skills. The answer to this concern is of course investing in excellent teachers — because good teachers will always use technology as a tool in service of learning rather than an end goal.

Kaety Bowers

Did not respond.

Member 5 Area

Gina Knapp

Technology is an essential component of education today. Blue Valley has been recognized as one of the top ten districts in the country for six of the last eight years by the National School Board Association and the Center for Digital Education. This is a result of the District’s efforts to integrate technology into the classroom and provide teachers the knowledge they need to make this a success.

Students have access to so much more knowledge and learning strategies because of technology. This is an advantage and I embrace it. To be clear, kids aren’t only taught on screens. There are still lots of hands on learning, activities, worksheets and books still be utilized. We are better off for all of it.

Christine White

Christine White’s name will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot, but she has said she is not actively campaigning and will not accept the office if elected.

Member 6 Area

Lindsay Weiss

As a parent, I know many of us struggle with screen time. I understand the interest in this topic — I have served a couple of terms on our Curriculum & Instruction Board Advisory Committee and this topic is discussed extensively every year. Over time, I think Blue Valley has really refined its approach to technology in the classroom. Technology is never a substitute for instruction, but can be applied mindfully — usually to enhance learning or make it more efficient.

During the pandemic, technology was a lifeline for our students. I have never been so thankful for 1:1 devices. As districts around the country completely lost touch with their students for weeks at a time, ours still had a connection with their familiar people — their teachers and their classmates — which made a period of uncertainty and anxiety feel a little more settled.

I have also found the district to be accommodating when technology isn’t the best fit for a student. I have a kiddo that doesn’t do as well with online textbooks in classes that require a lot of reading. She is always able to request a hardcover textbook free of charge, and it makes all the difference. I also know kids who do better when physically writing their assignments/papers versus typing them on a device. This is easy to do, even in Canvas, where kids can just snap a pic of the assignment and upload it.

I think we have a responsibility to teach kids how to use technology in their daily lives to prepare them for college and careers and to teach them how to use it safely. I do think Blue Valley has put together an approach over time that accomplishes this and does it in a progressive manner with age-appropriate usage.

Jim McMullen

I am decidedly in the camp that favors limiting technology access for children in the classroom as long as possible for a few reasons:

  1. Constant access to technology is distracting
  2. Kids have plenty of access to technology outside of school
  3. Research points to far better retention rates of information from use of physical books and writing with pen and paper.

I recognize that I have a bias for how I learned as a kid and also how my older children learned in their earliest years. Our oldest children were in middle school before there was any push to introduce much technology in the classroom. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend like we are not living in the technology age, and there are technology learning aids that enhance the learning process, so I do not advocate for a technology-free classroom.

Nevertheless, I believe all of our children would develop better intellectually if our classrooms had very limited use of technology, and we trained them in all disciplines by heavy reliance on use of physical books, pen/pencils and paper.