CALGARY - Calgary students told to turn off their iPods might soon have an excuse to keep the small gadgets glowing - they can say they're just doing homework.
The Calgary Board of Education is starting a series of pilot projects that could see many types of technology such as iPods, video conferencing and green screens incorporated into classrooms and school libraries.
Most students have grown up used to having digital tools on hand at all times, says Erin Hansen, project lead for the new initiative. Teachers may be able to make learning more personal for students by helping incorporate these familiar gadgets.
"How deeply are students using these tools? Are they just using them to text message and to telephone, et cetera? What deeper purposes can we use them for?"
Hansen is currently trying out some of the tools in the board's resource library for teachers ahead of a classroom rollout that could begin within a few months.
For example, she's found a vast variety of educational applications for iPods. While they're not included in classrooms just yet, possible tools range from portable periodic tables, astronomy charts and graphing calculators to downloadable audio books and news feeds.
Videoconferencing could link classrooms to museums far beyond the reach of a school bus, and green screens could let students put themselves anywhere, doing anything.
Students in Calgary seemed enthusiastic about seeing more technology in their classrooms, but were cautious about whether the gadgets they use for fun could also be educational.
"All teens use technology, but whether or not they learn better, I think it's on more of a personal basis," said Derek Vogt, 17.
"It definitely can aid, it's more of a tool or a resource rather than something that creates the final product itself."
Fifteen-year-old Corrine Tansowny laughed that currently, teachers usually ask students to turn off their iPods in class.
She said while educational applications might be great, an increase in certain types of technology can also present challenges.
"People can put stuff on their iPods and cheat," she said.
"I know that you can put SparkNotes and get the notes off the Internet for a book you're reading in (English), or whatever."
Her friend Veronica Letourneau, also 15, said she thinks a traditional classroom works just fine.
"I mean, all we really need to do on the computers is to type stuff up for essays or whatever. I don't think we need anything too advanced, personally. I think we're good."
The school board's project won't just look at how technology can fit in to classrooms and libraries. A big part will be figuring out how to help kids be smart about finding information in a wired world and knowing who and what to trust, said Hansen.
"The problem these days is not actually finding information, we're drowning in it," she said.
"We need to be working with all of our learners on information literacy skills."
Other schools and universities have made the leap to newer technology as a way to connect with youth.
For example, iPods have become popular at some universities to help teach music and foreign languages.
Duke University in North Carolina gave all new students in 2004 free iPods and designed a special website where educational resources could be downloaded.
A review after the first year found 60 per cent of students used the gadgets to record audio for classroom purposes, while three quarters used them in at least one way to support classroom learning.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made headlines earlier this year when he suggested that relying on printed textbooks is out of date and too costly.
Schwarzenegger launched an initiative to see whether students could use more online learning materials, projecting that math and science books will be digital by the fall.
Hansen said Calgary schools aren't set to follow suit - students won't see shelves of books replaced with digital docking stations.
Rather, she said, the idea is to add on to existing resources to let students personalize their educational experience.
"We are not saying in any way, shape or form that we're taking books out of the system and only using digital, absolutely not," she said.
"We are expanding the types of resources that students have at their fingertips and letting them choose what works best for them."