SMARTBoards, VR and the future of tech at Urban

Luke McKane, Social Media Manager

“Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs,” a new historical exhibit hosted at the de Young, complete with an affiliated virtual reality (VR) experience, raises questions about the future use of technology in education. Knowing that Urban has been a historically technologically-progressive school, some students wonder what the next steps in educational technology will look like for us. 

Reflecting on his time at the new de Young exhibit, Everett Plouffe ‘23 said, “I feel like you [are] able to get so much more out of [a VR experience] than reading a textbook that takes 10 times as long.” But before imagining what a headset-filled school may look like, it is important to understand how Urban  currently uses and implements technology into the curriculum.

When it comes to adding new technologies to the Urban catalog, the purchase can come from the Tech Office budget or a subject department budget. “If it’s something that we see can be used at a larger scale [and by multiple departments], then that will come out of the tech budget,” said Director of Educational Technology and Innovation, Camelia Perez. “There’s certain software that let’s say the math department will really utilize that won’t necessarily help teaching and learning in English or history classrooms.” It is when purchasing subject-specific technology that the Tech Office will utilize department budgets. 

Although we have budgets for new technology every year, some teachers prefer to not always jump to the next best thing. “It’s important to also keep in mind that we, in science, and I’m assuming other departments, only use technology when it is clearly better than what we were doing before,” said science teacher Geoff Ruth. “We try not to adopt technology for the sake of adopting technology, because that frequently is counterproductive.”

Regarding the current use of technology at Urban, video and photography teacher Kelli Yon, remarked on the power of giving all students access to Adobe’s Creative Suite, which was previously only administered to students in certain classes. “That’s been pretty dramatic in terms of allowing students who are interested in doing After Effects, or any of the Adobe Creative Suite [applications] to be able to dive into it on their own.” 

While there are many beneficial uses, when asked where they saw opportunities for improvement in technology usage at Urban, both Perez and Ruth mentioned our use of SMART Boards. “On the one hand, we use them well,” said Ruth. “On the other hand, they require the teacher standing in front of the class, lecturing and writing stuff on the board, which is a really old school way of teaching.”

“[We want] to still have teachers interact and share notes, but also have students sharing work,” said Perez. “Not always the teacher with the SMART Board … showing their slides, but also [having] students mirroring things on the screen.” Perez shared that she and the tech department are actively researching ways to make this a reality. 

As for bringing VR into the Urban classroom, it is not the primary focus of the tech department. However, it has already started to be integrated into the science curriculum. Ruth demonstrated a 360° video used to help students visualize the inside of a cell. 

Although the science department does not have current plans to make VR a central part of their curriculum, Ruth showed excitement for the possibilities of the growing industry. “[I see VR being most helpful for] any science that involves stuff that’s hard to see,” he said. “Whether that is at a molecular level, whether it involves things that are invisible, like studying light or other types of electromagnetic radiation, electrons, basically, in making tangible and thus concrete, the invisible.”