Is technology a panacea or a plague in the classroom? The honest answer is “neither”, but much of the focus on technology in the classroom has revolved around its benefits and ability to positively transform the learning experience. Educators, however, would be wise to approach the use of technology with a bit more caution. Numerous studies have linked technology use to developmental setbacks in children; for example, rampant tech use has been correlated with problems with impulse control and self-regulation. It seems that, sometimes, introducing technology in the classroom to help students grow does the exact opposite.
Today, a day without tech being used in the classroom would be an unusual day indeed. In fact, according to a survey by Front Row Education, 75% of teachers say they use technology daily with their students. Tablets and laptops are now common in many classrooms. These devices can be loaded with education programs and apps for students, and using this kind of technology makes it easy for teachers to track student progress.
On the cutting edge of ed-tech you’ll find tools like virtual reality and 3D printing. By using virtual reality technology, like Google Glass, students can visit other locations without ever leaving their desks. These tools use 3D imagery to make the wearer feel like they’re exploring a realm in person. 3D printing also gives students opportunities to explore cutting-edge concepts in the classroom. Students can design objects on a computer and then “print” them out on a 3D printer, which uses plastic or other materials to create the object. These kinds of technologies may currently be cost prohibitive for many schools, but you’re likely to see them being adopted by classrooms in the coming years.
Using technology in the classroom comes with a host of benefits, from equipping teachers with tools to easily measure progress to arming students with new ways to explore the world around them. But, sometimes, tech seems to do more harm than good when it comes to helping students succeed.
For example, many students express discomfort with the use of predictive software in the classroom. This new software is used to identify students who are at risk of failing so that, presumably, the school can extend a helping hand. Students, however, are concerned with being labeled as struggling before they have a chance to succeed, and they wonder if that label will follow them throughout their academic careers. At a panel for EduCon2.9, students from Macomb Community College in Michigan argued that the use of predictive analytics reduces students to numbers and may be an invasion of privacy.
Another question educators must grapple with: Can too much tech interfere with student growth? Especially at the preschool age, kids develop their motor, sensory, and “life” skills, like learning to share, through free play. Yet educators at the preschool level are facing mounting pressure to create academic-focused, rather than exploratory, environments for children. Couple rigid academic schedules with technology that keeps students focused on a screen instead of the world around them, and you have a recipe for a host of cognitive and behavioral issues in kids down the line.
Educators must also be aware of “piling on” too much tech time. Many students already use technology frequently outside of the classroom, so class time can be a much-needed reprieve from screens. Limiting tech outside the classroom is often a tough task for parents, since many mobile games are designed to be addicting for users. The lure and breadth of social media is also hard for kids to ignore. Since too much tech use by adolescents has been linked to everything from shorter attention spans to higher risks for obesity, tech overload at home and at school can put students’ health in jeopardy.
The risks of technology use in schools doesn’t suggest that educators need to get rid of tech altogether. Since technology is now used in almost every job field, we would be doing students a disservice if we didn’t teach them how to properly use the tools their future livelihoods depend upon. It is necessary, however, to find the right balance by blending tech use with traditional teaching methods. For example, completing research projects becomes easier with access to the internet, but teachers must be wary of students who may copy from sources or navigate to Wikipedia in search of answers. Teaching traditional, book-based research skills first can lay a foundation for students that they can then apply online.
Seek out tools and resources that can help you find the right balance in the classroom. Here are a few to get you started: