Believe it or not, whether technology in the classroom is a good thing is not a new debate. In the 70’s, people questioned whether or not to allow children to use calculators, which are now a staple of any maths lesson. Throughout history, new technology (no matter how much it ultimately made our lives better and easier) has often been met with some level of scepticism.
As a technology provider to education, you may think it’s in our best interests to assume (and tell our customers) that technology in the classroom is an inherently good thing. But the truth is, as many pros as there are, there are some cons as well.
So without further ado, let’s examine both sides of the argument for and against technology in the classroom.
Possessing digital skills is becoming increasingly more vital to many careers. Not only are new job roles and career paths emerging all the time, long-standing roles may be transitioning to digital or gaining digital components. Having a strong foundation of digital skills is essential. But not only does use of technology improve digital skills, it can also develop and improve collaboration, communication, planning, problem solving and presentation skills amongst others.
- Enables new ways to teach and learn
Whatever your views on technology in the classroom, there’s no denying the opportunities it presents. It’s now possible for students to engage with other classes, teachers and people all over the world without leaving the classroom, using Skype. Students can share work and collaborate with their peers from anywhere. They can learn basic programming techniques by controlling robots, go back in time using virtual reality and at a most basic level, they have access to an endless supply of information. All of this gives teachers and students the ability to take learning beyond the classroom and build a more in-depth understanding of the world around them.
- Practical benefits
From a practical perspective, learning using technology presents a number of benefits to the student. Rather than carrying around a heavy bag full of exercise books and text books, they can simply carry a tablet or laptop. It also means that the information they’re getting is much more likely to be up to date and accurate. eBooks and other digital texts can be easily kept updated – text books can’t.
- Technology can “rewire” a child’s brain
Jim Taylor Ph.D. theorises that frequent exposure to technology can actually wire the brain in different ways to previous generations. Taylor explains that the environment influences the brain’s ability to focus and pay attention to certain things. He uses an example from the animal kingdom; predators (lions, tigers, etc.) have highly-developed visual attention in order to spot and track their prey. Conversely, prey (antelopes, deer) have highly-tuned auditory attention so that they can better hear predators approaching. Applying this logic to technology, in the age of the internet where “distraction is the norm”, maintaining consistent attention, using imagination and committing things to memory are less important and harder to achieve. More traditional methods of learning such as good old fashioned reading are seen to better develop reflection, critical thinking, problem solving and vocabulary.
- There’s little evidence to suggest it improves performance
Last year a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concluded that “computers do not improve pupil results”. The study examined the impact of school technology on international test results in more than 70 countries. Anecdotally, it found that:
- Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results
- There were “no appreciable improvements” in reading, mathematics or sciences in countries that had invested heavily in tech
- The highest achieving school systems had lower levels of computer use in school
The OECD’s education director Andres Schleicher warned that technology could become a “distraction” and would lead to pupils copying and pasting homework from the internet.
The report and Schleicher’s subsequent comments were met with a passionate rebuttal from the UK education community. Many felt that dismissing technology in this way was dangerous, and that technology was endemic in society and this should be reflected in schools.
- It presents security and privacy risks
Another practical point for the cons list. Obviously, if you have a room full of students with access to the internet, this can present challenges. Without monitoring, and the knowledge to know how to navigate the internet safely, children are not only at risk of looking up inappropriate and potentially harmful material, but also of letting potentially harmful malware and even hackers into the school’s network.
This particular point can obviously be addressed through a careful and stringent approach to data protection and esafety. But it’s definitely one worth considering.
Quite a common response to the question “Is technology in the classroom good?” is that this isn’t necessarily the right question. Many assert that in fact the argument has been lost – technology is ubiquitous, and we should teach our children how to use effectively from a young age in order to prepare them for their future career. Instead, the question should be: “in what ways are we using technology in the classroom and is this improving the learning experience?”.
It’s important to remember that despite some obvious drawbacks, technology is inescapable. Not providing children with the opportunity to develop solid digital skills is potentially harmful to their future career prospects and even to their ability to function as a fully engaged member of society. Many of the cons levied against using technology in education can be met with careful consideration of how technology will be used and how it will benefit the learning experience. If the answer to that question in that particular example is “it probably won’t” it might be better to stick to more traditional methods.
So, perhaps the answer to the question “Is technology in the classroom good or bad?” is “it depends”.