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It is no mystery that the common classroom has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Chalkboards have given way to white boards. White boards have been joined by smartboards. And now, paper slowly makes way for laptops and tablets.

Six years ago Buffalo Seminary instituted its laptop program that gave each student a laptop.

“It was obvious that this was the direction education was going to go in,” said Beth Adamczyk, head of Sem’s technology department. “Since we were a small school, we were perfectly poised to be able to experiment.”

Today, it is obvious that the experiment is a success. Both students and teachers alike have embraced the program. But how much of a help are the laptops? Are they more a distraction or an asset?

When asked the question, the response from students and teachers is unanimous: asset.

The biggest thing that came along with the program was standardization. Buffalo Seminary, like many high schools, had permitted the use of laptops in the classroom prior to the program’s implementation. Now, every student has the same software, programs and Internet access.

In the past few years, Buffalo Seminary has utilized the website edline.net. Every teacher has a page for each class they teach, and each student has an account with links to every one of the class pages. On their pages, teachers post homework, upcoming tests, notes, powerpoints and worksheets that students can download to their computers or print. Edline is Buffalo Seminary’s backbone when it comes to displaying and relaying information. Calendars, schedules, lunch menus and upcoming events are just a few of the things featured on Sem’s edline home page.

Each teacher also has a Dropbox link on his or her edline page, to which students can upload any file on their computer, usually essays, papers and completed worksheets. Once uploaded to Dropbox, the teacher is able to access the file. These files are either printed by the teacher and corrected or corrected and returned via the student Dropbox, which all students can access as long as they are within the wireless range of the school’s server.

Another advantage to the laptops is organization. Homework files, essays, worksheets and handouts are easily filed on a computer’s desktop folders, while Microsoft OneNote makes taking notes in class and keeping them in order a cinch.

Sem has molded its program for what is best for its students by offering them a range of options. If a student is uncomfortable with typing her notes, she can flip the laptop screen down, turning it into a tablet, and handwrite her notes with the computer stylus. Such techniques are useful during math classes and for filling in worksheets downloaded from edline.

While use of the laptops is strongly encouraged, no student is forced to use her computer at Buffalo Seminary. Paper notes are always an option. However, many students find using the computer a great asset. They have grown accustomed to the laptops and would be lost without it.

“I probably wouldn’t be able to survive without my laptop,” said sophomore Consuela Sowa. “I’ve become so used to it in the past year and a half that it would be difficult to get things done without it. I basically have my whole life stored on it.”

The program also teaches an unscripted lesson: time management.

“This school has a big belief that it is the students’ responsibility to police their Internet use,” said Glenna Leous, a science teacher at Buffalo Seminary. “We don’t police it for them.”

It’s no surprise that some students, especially freshmen, spend their free periods surfing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Social media also can be a temptation during class. In this way, the program teaches another lesson by offering students a choice between learning and the temptation of social media.

“Last year was a mess,” said sophomore Kira Yerofeev. “I couldn’t stay off social media. Thank God I’ve realized I should probably actually listen during class and do work during my free” periods.

The teachers agree that distractions do not necessarily take root in the laptops.

“I think it’s more the person than the medium,” said Carey Miller, an English teacher. “Learning to control that distraction is the same as anything else in this world.”

In fact, many students and teachers find computers an asset during class. Google has become many of the girls’ best friend.

“If my teacher ever mentions something that I become interested in, it’s really great being able to be able to look it up right then and there,” said Consuela. The same concept applies to words students do not know. “Look it up” are three commonly heard words around Buffalo Seminary.

Sem is not the only school leaning in the direction of a completely electronic classroom. A little more than a year ago, Canisius High School launched its iPad program.

“We wanted to go this route because we felt an obligation to our students to teach them how to effectively and responsibly use technology as part of their education,” said Eric Amodeo, coordinator of academic technology at Canisius.

“We always said that our curriculum would drive technology,” Amodeo said, “not the other way around.”

What’s next?

Canisius is searching for ways to improve their program, making classes more engaging and to teach their students how to manage the distractions they face.

At Buffalo Seminary, the focus is more on convenience.

“We’re really making an effort to work in the cloud so students can access their homework and notes from anywhere,” Adamzcyk said, “and we’re also moving in the direction of mostly digital textbooks … that’s going to be another really big push for us.”

Maia Gallagher is a sophomore at Buffalo Seminary.