The modern classroom has, as with any workspace, been affected by the march of technology. One of the most prominent, or in some opinions, one of the most egregious, is the smart board. In the grand tradition of “smart” devices, smart boards allow educators to blend computer interfaces with traditional blackboards to better convey information. But do these devices really help students learn?
This is the question that runs through every piece of technology leveraged for classroom use. Even laptops, which have since become a school staple, are hotly debated as a possible distraction for students. The two camps are highly polarized, many touting the wonders of new devices and software as teaching tools, and the other preferring traditional textbooks and blackboards.
Of course, as with most things, the best approach is likely somewhere in the middle. In the future, as more changes to classrooms are proposed, it comes down to teachers to selectively adopt technology that will enable them to teach in a more dynamic manner.
Much like other industries, schools have been hit hard by the new trend of the Internet of Things. It then becomes a challenge to effectively deploy this technology in a way that keeps the focus on learning. However, I am of the mindset that learning through technology, particularly laptops and mobile devices, are a great way to prepare students for the considerations that they will face on the job; having an understanding of common technology is vital in any workplace. Usage must be considered carefully. Even with forums and ways to communicate through technology, it is healthy for students to spend time interacting with others to solve problems.
This balance of practicality vs. experience is reminiscent of the ongoing debate of calculators. Most primary schools allow for calculators in class while selectively banning them during certain lessons or tests. The idea is to enable a student to solve arithmetic problems on their own rather than relying on machines, a concept with plenty of merit, but one that becomes a bit shaky when one considers that calculators—even on phones and computers—are a reality everywhere outside of school.
It is for this reason and many more that a balance must be struck. The problem with technology is that it has the potential to hurt social interaction and cause students to rely on it. Google in particular is hotly debated as a learning tool, with many claiming that it has hurt society’s ability to concentrate and retain information. Yet, it solves nothing to cut students off from technology when it is so ingrained in the world outside of the classroom.
The debate of technology piggybacks off of a debate that has been held for a long time amongst educators. Finding the optimal blend of lecturing and interaction has been a challenge that every educator has had to face. The overwhelming consensus among studies conducted on the subject is that interactive activities make for better retention and building of practical skills, something that synergizes well when technology is added into the mix. Technology can break the usual teacher-student model of interactions, giving students the power to use the lessons that they’ve learned in more ways that before.
In contrast, teaching lectures using digital notes may be less effective with computers and lead to distractions. That said, this just highlights a need for intelligent online note taking, as this is certainly something seen in the workplace. Many of the changes can be made can be summed up as “adopt, but be mindful.” Similarly, online interaction among students and teachers can improve communication and lead to new learning opportunities that may not have been available otherwise.
For educators, there is no avoiding using technology in the classroom given its greater prevalence in the “real world” that schools are ostensibly preparing their students for. Even if teachers have fond memories of graphing calculators and chalkboards, it is necessary for them to educate themselves on new teaching techniques and ensure that their students are not waylaid by their own aversion to change.