By JOSELYN KING For The Times Leader
WHEELING - Their parents "hit the books" when they went to school, but today's youth now touch their iPads or smartphones to learn more than reading, writing and arithmetic.
Education experts were asked, "What new communication trends are teens and college-age students using that other generations have yet to experience?"
SOME?LOCAL schools are fully embracing the educational potential of the iPad like these students at St. Vincent de Paul Parish School in Wheeling.
When students at St. Vincent de Paul Parish School in Wheeling returned to their classrooms in January, each found a shiny new iPad awaiting them. The school has distributed iPads to all their middle school students - free of charge for families - and the goal is for students to eventually download all their textbooks and other educational material directed by their teachers onto their tablet.
Students will return the iPads to the school at the end of the school year.
The Rev. John Mulcahy, pastor at St. Vincent, noted the program to replace all textbooks with a tablet device may be the first of its kind in the Northern Panhandle, and is definitely a first in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
He pointed out the advantages of students using iPads - most notably how much cheaper it is to have students download textbooks than to purchase printed texts for them.
"The cost savings are enormous," he said.
"And the books are heavy, and we have students lugging around four and five books at a time. Why not take them home on an iPad?"
The major text book publishers presently have samples of their books available online, and Mulcahy said the school is currently working out the details on the downloads.
At present, just French textbooks are being used by St. Vincent's students on their iPads.
"The electronic texts can do what their counterparts can't," Mulcahy said. "They have graphics, and the students can touch certain sections to learn more. ... Text books they just read.
The electronic books "are very interactive. They engage and stimulate the student."
New texts also won't have to be purchased on a regular basis, Mulcahy noted. When needed, students would just update them at the app store.
For now, the students are learning to use their iPads, finding and downloading apps, and discussing with their teachers which educational apps are the most beneficial. Mulcahy said school officials hadn't anticipated this dialogue would result in students and teachers recommending apps for each other.
"Technology is so important for the students," Mulcahy said. "If they don't have access to this, they will be shortchanged. It's critical if they advance on to higher education."
Two Hancock County elementary schools have been using iPads for more than a year now. Every fourth grader at Weirton Heights Elementary School in Weirton and Allen T. Allison Elementary School in Chester - about 160 students in all - now has his or her very own iPad to use during the school day. This unusual opportunity was made possible with $100,000 in federal funding.
Teachers there report success in how the students have adapted to the technology.
In the future, the students may find themselves in the classroom of Professor Michael McTeague, associate dean and professor emeritus at Ohio University Eastern.
McTeague calls himself a "luddite" who rejects most technology, and he wonders if technology isn't going to lead to a more cursory education for students.
"They are very much addicted to electronic media," he said of today's youth. "And there's just as strong an addiction to instantaneous gratification and messaging. ...
"I think they are missing features. They don't read much anymore, and there's not an enjoyment of information. They not attracted to what would take serious concentration."
He noted youths are suffering from "tremendous information overload."
"They seem to pick it up and spit it out," McTeague said. "You can't multi-task and be as effective as you think you can.
"If they listen, read and watch TV at the same time - I don't know if they get a lot of insight. If they do, it's superficial insight."
He also believes the English language is diminishing as a result of technology.
"People are talking like they text, and that's not necessarily a good thing," McTeague said.