A recent survey from PBS Learning Media reported that three-quarters of American pre-K-12 teachers believed that technology in school has positive benefits on education.
Differing opinions on whether educational technology is beneficial to learning in the classroom may primarily lie in a person’s fundamental opinion about technology in general. But arguing whether broad outcomes brought about by technology are positive or negative, or just simply changes that are, is an exercise based more in subjectivity than fact.
For example, one common sentiment is that the increased exposure to technology is shortening our attention spans. One could easily contend that attention spans haven’t been shortened, but merely shifted to other (and depending on opinion, perhaps more compelling) things. The same child who doesn’t have the patience to finish reading a book for an hour may have no problem completing a word game on the computer for that same amount of time.
The question then perhaps shouldn’t be whether it is more or less effective to have technology in the classroom. Instead, we need to be asking and encouraging educators to find creative ways of integrating technology into the classroom to facilitate learning.
According to Atsusi Hirumi, associate professor of instructional design and technology at the University of Central Florida, research shows that technology itself has little relevance on increasing learning — it is the design of the instruction that causes the most variance on learning.
When used effectively, technology has a number of documented, positive outcomes on learning. It can facilitate active participation with information as opposed to passively receiving info from a teacher or textbook. Studies show that students retain information better when engaged interactively. Tools such as blogs, wiki pages and YouTube can make collaboration and work sharing easier, even over greater distances and across cultures.
Many teachers have seen technology open new doors in ways that weren’t always possible for children with learning disabilities or students who previously had little interest in academics. Used as a resource to personalize education, technology can be a powerful tool.
Today there is a thin line between engagement and addiction within the virtual world. It would be irresponsible to ignore worries about technology. Is too much screen time taking away from children’s motor skills, social skills and other “life skills”?
However valid these worries may be, we shouldn’t let them take away from the potential technology has to increase learning in the classroom in ways that were never before possible. In the end, the answer to whether technology increases learning ironically may have little to do with the presence of the technology itself, but rather depends on the teacher behind it.
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— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors. The opinions expressed are her own.