Freshman students have spent the 2015-2016 academic year participating in a pilot computer program, during which students are required to bring laptop computers to school everyday.
Head of the Upper School Dr. Kelley Nicholson-Flynn sent a letter home families of the Class of 2019 last summer to explain the purpose of the program and the requirements for students’ laptops.
Dr. Nicholson-Flynn wrote that the students would be using computers for various classroom-based exercises, such as in-class writing assignments, presentations, or simulations.
She discussed the exciting ways in which computers can assist the learning process, but she also emphasized that the school is opposed to the overuse of technology and electronics. She does not want students to sit in front of screens all of the time.
Dr. Nicholson-Flynn also emphasized that computers would not restrict student-teacher interactions: “We continue to believe in the value of direct human engagement through discussion of ideas or texts.” The Riverdale administration believes computer usage will enhance the learning experience and not substitute human connection.
Freshman Dean Julie Choi said that teachers may assign computer usage as they see fit. She pointed out that there is no specific mandate on the way that computers may be used.
Dr. Nicholson-Flynn explained that teachers use computers for different reasons. For example, some history and English teachers have used computers for in class assignments or essays, while several math teachers allow students to build databases of geometry terms, such as theorems, postulates, and definitions. Math students may use the databases both in and outside of class in order to complete math problems or help strengthen their understanding of the material.
Additionally, the new Design Your Life course, which replaced the Digital Change module, requires freshmen to work in small groups and to use their computers to create apps through a web application called App Inventor.
These student-made apps help solve common problems that Riverdale students face such as how to locate a school bus or organize the lunch duty schedule in the cafeteria.
Students also utilize their computers to participate in surveys on a wide variety of topics, such as their strengths and weaknesses, school experiences, extracurricular activities, and social experiences.
Ms. Julie Choi believes that the program has been successful so far and that Riverdale is planning on continuing it for rising freshmen during the upcoming school year. She says that the program will naturally spread to other grades as well, but upperclassmen are not yet required to bring in their own laptops.
Ms. Choi also said that many students have already been toting their computers to school to complete homework assignments during their free periods. Because of this, she doesn’t think that it is a huge imposition to require all students to bring computers to school.
She noted that one of the disadvantages to the computer program is the additional weight that it adds to already heavy student backpacks.
Additionally, students occasionally use their computers for non-academic reasons, which is distracting from classes.
While the program is under development, it will be continued next year in an attempt to investigate how it can supplement a strong Riverdale curriculum.