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Question of the Month: Is Tech Good or Bad for School?

From projectors and notebooks to tablets and networks, technology has taken over the school, but what will be its ultimate impact on education? According to a survey of 1,145 people by Poll Position, 47 percent think it will have a positive impact on the education of our children, while 33 percent said it would have a negative impact; 21 percent didn’t have an opinion. What’s your opinion?

  

Deborah bakerDeborah Baker

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

Brighton Central Schools

Rochester, NY

I can completely understand why 21 percent of the respondents didn’t have an opinion as to whether or not technology would have an ultimate impact on education. Do we have concrete data on whether or not chalk, pencils and paper have had an impact in the classroom?  Probably not. 

For many years, we have been asking the question and seeking answers…as if technology was the panacea for all of our problems associated with reaching all students and helping them to learn. In continuing to ask the question, we once again relegate technology to “an event”; it’s a place we go (for example, the tech lab), something that we “do”. Instead, I believe we should no longer consider it an option, but rather view its incorporation into a classroom as a catalyst for fostering the type of learning environment we are striving for. 

Last fall, I was fortunate to be a part of an educational delegation to China. Part of that trip included a presentation about the history of the Chinese educational system and a review of their current goals and attempts at changing the way teachers teach and what students learn. Specifically, the lecturer talked about how historically in China, students were taught how to “take tests”. “We’re very good at teaching our students how to pass tests,” he explained, but now “we’d like to teach them how to think critically, be creative, and make a contribution to the world economy” by inventing and developing.

In other words, they are aspiring to be more like the American educational system, where we embrace creativity, individualism and innovation. The highlight of the trip was when we toured schools and classrooms. Consistently, we found that the typical high school classroom contained 50-to-60 students, crowded together in desks with the teacher lecturing from the front of the room, literally elevated on a five-inch platform. In most rooms, there was little evidence of technology. At best, a teacher may have access to a single computer with a projector. There were computer labs in the schools, but they were few and far between. That’s not to say that the students didn’t have access, but most of the students that we talked to said that they had access at home.

I found it interesting to observe the disconnect between the national desire for open classrooms, which fostered higher order thinking skills and the actuality of the classroom setting. In my opinion, it’s not just a changing philosophy that needed to be communicated to the classroom teachers, but also a realization that their current structure will never support their desire. Even if a teacher wanted to arrange students in collaborative groups and engage in a project-based pedagogical model, he/she would not have the resources or physical space to accommodate such an environment.

So back to the question at hand: Will technology make a difference? It will, but only if the conditions are such that our pedagogical models align to its use. Think about the tools and the functions each affords. If a teacher/building/district fosters, supports, insists upon a pedagogical model that fosters authenticity of learning, collaborative problem solving, and real time analysis of individual student learning, then absolutely, technology will make a difference. In many ways, such an environment would be impossible to realize if there were no access to the various technological tools. If on the other hand, a system allows/condones learning environments which emphasize memorization of content and drill and practice of skill, then the expense of purchasing and maintaining the technology just isn’t worth it.

Again, it’s not about the tools, it’s about what we do with them which will ultimately determine value and impact.

 

Mark weedyMark Weedy

Retired Superintendent

Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools

Groveport, Ohio

 

 

I believe the influence of technology and its expanded use in education will have a positive effect on the education of every learner. The influence of technology is probably greater for learners who have been raised with technology, but it is beneficial for learners who were not raised with technology to be exposed to it as a learning tool.

I believe anyone who desires to further his or her education, no matter what age the person happens to be, is able to benefit from a technological approach to learning.  Technology has changed and continues to changes the way we think, act, and go about our daily business. Banks have had ATMs for years, and most people have become used to using these machines to pay bills, get cash and transfer money from one account to another. The number of people who have cell phones continues to skyrocket, and the use of pay telephones is negligible so that many businesses and schools have removed them due to the cost of providing the service. 

The sale of tablets is yet another indication of how many people are growing accustomed to having information at their fingertips all the time. Sometimes these changes take time and once the change occurs, it is not always immediately obvious. To illustrate that point, I once saw a picture of a man at an airport using his cell phone while standing in front of a row of pay telephones.

It is incumbent on educators of the young and not-so-young to embrace the use of technology when teaching. The approach educators employ when using technology in learning must be geared toward the audience. Adult learners who are not familiar with, and sometimes afraid of, technology may need to be convinced that technology can make their learning (and lives) easier.

Educators need to be prepared to show such learners specific examples of how technology can help them accomplish everyday tasks much easier. I believe it is also important that educators allow younger learners the opportunity to share their technological expertise. I have seen many examples of students teaching the teachers about technology, not only the mechanics of how to use technology but how to use it to enhance learning.

Technology has also become very important from an economic perspective. The world economy is very closely aligned with technology, and many unemployed or displaced workers are finding their technology skills lacking as they search for a new job. I have heard news reports of jobs going unfilled because of the lack of workers who possess certain technology skills. Many people are finding the need to return to school to learn new skills, and most of the new skills include a certain level of expertise in technology. Educators who are assisting these learners must be aware that learners who have not been exposed to very little, if any, technology will need special care in this area.

 

  John OrbaughJohn Orbaugh

Director of Technology Services

Tyler Independent School District

Tyler, TX

 

 

From my perspective technology for the sake of technology will only have a negative impact on our schools and communities. Technology is an ongoing and expensive addition to our classrooms, that’s not a news flash for anyone I realize. 

If we are just throwing technology into classrooms in order to say that we have it you can bet it will have little effect. However, when the technology placed in our classrooms begins with an instructional basis, links to lesson plans and is engaging to our students then you can expect a couple of things to occur. 

  • First, we will minimize the financial impact on our schools and tax payers. We won’t find ourselves in the indefensible position of trying to explain why thus and such piece of technology was purchased and why it isn’t being used. 
  • Second, by starting with an instructional basis for the purchase decision we are able to focus our technology on areas of greatest need and it will have the greatest effect.  
  • Finally, when there are instructional resources built into lesson plans our teachers aren’t left to founder about looking for ways to tie the technology to the lesson. 

For example, we had a department a couple of years ago decide that they wanted to install interactive whiteboards. Great product and great for student engagement, but because not all the teachers selected to receive these units were prepared, trained or even interested in using the technology some sat idle for a few years. Once we were able to move the units to a classroom where the teacher was properly prepared for the technology did we finally begin to see a difference being made with our students. 

In other words, if the technology and lesson aren’t one, then technology is just a “thing to do” in addition to the lesson. The effect of being an addition is that it falls to the side because teacher’s don’t have time to waste on yet another thing when they are trying to get students over the hump of the next high stakes test.  If we don’t do our preparation for technology upfront then those who say technology is a waste will be proved right.

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