Technology is a hallmark of modern education. From computers to smartphones, children spend a vast amount of time plugged into the digital realm. This sort of constant exposure, even in the modern classroom, has caused many educators to wonder if technology is helping or hindering the intellectual advancement of their students. Although it is undeniable that technology in the classroom opens up educational opportunities never before available to students, it is equally possible that technology may be partly responsible for preventing students from developing critical thinking skills that are essential for proper intellectual development.
When Dependence on Technology Becomes a Crutch in the Classroom
It is simple for a child to plug in values into a calculator app on their smartphone and produce a result. The beauty of technology is that some programs are sophisticated enough to give the child the correct answer all the time. The unfortunate side of the child’s growing dependence on such apps arises when they are left to figure the answer out for themselves. Having not developed the relevant mathematical skill to work the answer out on paper exposes that children, those educated to be dependent on technology to do their thinking for them, are simply left to the whims of their own intellectual inexperience. Same applies to writing research papers. Many students rely on the internet and simply copy-paste their research papers from online resources without thinking that teachers have Turnitin, a service-based website that focuses on preventing plagiarism both by comparing submitted works to basically all other works in existence and by offering educational tips on how to avoid plagiarism when writing a paper (source).
In this respect, technology becomes a crutch, not a useful tool for fostering a genuine education and pushing the envelope of a child’s intellectual advancement. For similar reasons, a recent 2015 article on the National Education Association (NEA) website warns about the hype associated with the push for technology in the classroom.
One of the concerns raised by the NEA article arises in the area of personalized instruction versus personalized learning. While the first concerns the individualized instruction provided to the student, the latter concerns the way the student is best motivated to learn. If both these issues are not properly coordinated by the particular technology being used, then technology in the classroom may not be reaching or motivating many students to progress in the learning process; consequently, the technology in question becomes ineffective as a means to stimulate intellectual advancement.
When Technology Makes a Significant Difference in the Classroom
There is no question that technology has a place in modern education. Learning to become proficient with technology is simply a core foundation on which our modern society is built. For this reason it is essential for educators to leverage technology in the best way possible to augment the learning process. Where this is truly a vision for significant improvements in learning potential is when technology can open a door otherwise closed to students. For example, technology that models ideas in a way that are easier to understand, than were possible from the use of formal educational methods, becomes a true frontier for intellectual enlightenment for the students. This could involve something as useful as sophisticated digital graphing tools and animated graphical models to teach a lecture in acceleration for a first course in Calculus, for example.
Alternatively, technology opens doors for learning opportunities that were simply not available in generations past. According to article published by Vanderbilt University, modern technology makes it possible to import guest lecturers into the classroom by remote. This provides students with expert insights into subjects from people currently working in the field of study their course covers. This type of insight is a very legitimate use of technology, at all levels of education, for providing students with current real world knowledge about subjects from which they can truly benefit. Aside from simply augmenting a student’s intelligence, such experiences may prove to also put a student on a path towards a meaningful career they would not have known existed without such technologically-based encounters in the classroom.
It is difficult to know what will spark genuine learning in a particular student. Every student is unique in their acquisition of knowledge. For some students a technology-based approach is an excellent fit. For others, a less tech-intensive approach works better. While educators debate over which approach is best in their classroom, what is often neglected is the student’s own preference in the matter. One of the best ways to find out what is actually working best for a student is to simply ask the student.
Allowing students to explore the educational process in the way that works best for their own personal learning needs is central to deriving a learning approach that makes sense for the student in question. Trying to force a square peg in a round hole, with a one sized fits all approach to learning, only continues to cause educators to dance around the core problem of how to best educate students. In the course of the ongoing analysis paralysis, their students are oftentimes unnecessarily being denied a proper education.
This article is inspired with my recent experience with ITIC.