It wasn't too long ago that teachers relied on blackboards and books alone to convey information in the classroom. Today's teachers, on the other hand, have a near infinite selection of hardware, software and apps to choose from when deciding how best to reach students at every grade level.
Technology is overtaking chalk dust for better or for worse and changing not only how classrooms operate, but also how students learn.
The Incorporation of Technology
But first it might help to visualize just what kinds of transitions are taking place. E-books, which are easy to update and nearly free to produce – are becoming a staple of curriculums that once relied on expensive and cumbersome hardback editions.
Electronic devices like a laptop or tablet are replacing spiral bound notebooks at an amazing rate. Teachers are using interactive whiteboards to make their lessons more dynamic. Collaborative apps are inspiring a project based learning explosion. Taken together, these changes mean that the modern classroom is a very different place than the classrooms of even a decade ago.
Effects of Technology in the Classroom
One major consequence of this integration of technology into the classroom is a shift in the teacher-student relationship. Whereas teachers once held the keys to all knowledge, today the learning process is much more democratic.
In one Pew Research Center survey, conducted in collaboration with the College Board and the National Writing Project, a majority of teachers surveyed believe that access to the Internet and technology is making more self-sufficient researchers. Many of those same teachers specifically stated that technology in the classroom could be a useful educational tool.
The Benefits of Technology in the Classroom
Technology may be democratizing education in other ways, too. Some teachers are helping the lowest-income students – who may have access to a mobile device but no computer at home – master the increasingly important STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) in and out of the classroom with smartphone and tablet apps.
A Verizon Foundation survey found that students who are allowed to use mobile devices and apps right inside the classroom tend to be more interested in STEM subjects. Additionally, shy students who might not otherwise participate in classroom discussions can contribute in online collaborations and students with different learning styles have a greater chance of succeeding alongside their peers.
The main downside of the increasing integration of technology into the classroom experience is that no one has yet identified exactly what effects heavy technology use has on developing brains. In the Pew Research Center survey cited above, many teachers pointed toward technology as a way to explain students' shorter attention spans and inability to persevere when tasks become challenging.
Critics of the idea that technology is hurting student performance suggest that if the way students learn is changing, it's the responsibility of the education system to keep up.
The Importance of Technology
In general, however, teachers are embracing technology in the classroom because of the way it promotes student engagement and learning outside of the classroom. Everything from online lesson plans and programs that let students learn at their own pace to collaboration apps and cloud computing, these technologies are helping teachers become not just instructors, but also facilitators empowering students to take charge of their own education.
(*) Jennifer Thayer is a technology writer who loves using her tablet to share helpful ways people can utilize technology in their day-to-day lives. Follow her on Twitter (@TechyJen) to see what other tips she comes up with.
Education & Tech