Students in 2016 have access to more knowledge and information than anyone in human history. However, this access is fraught with concerns, distractions, and drawbacks. As Uncle Ben told a young Peter Parker “with great power comes great responsibility.” For every great website or learning app, there is a texting feature or game that threatens to draw the attention of the students. The concerns about these distractions are certainly real and we as teachers must be mindful of them. However, with proper training and education, the benefits of technology are so vast. From helping students with learning disabilities, to accessing previously unreachable knowledge in under-developed countries, to making our students smarter and more aware of the world they live in, technology is an incredible asset.
The informative paper Using Assistive Technology in Teaching Children with Learning Disabilities in the 21st Century”, a wide range of technologies are creating new options and supporting the participation of all children.” There has always and will always be students in our classrooms with a wide range of abilities. However, there are now more avenues than ever before to improve knowledge and accessibility for our struggling students. The previously mentioned article discusses assistive technology (AT) and how they “help a learner with a disability complete an everyday task.” So while it is a benefit to have the AT in the classroom to aid in these daily tasks, the paper also states that this “technology can only enhance basic skills, not replace them.” This statement is very important to the critics of technology, who believe that AT allows the students to complete their tasks without learning the concept. One of these critics is Andreas Schleicher, who believes children should have a good grasp on reading and math, instead of worrying about access to hi-tech devices. However, what Andreas and all critics need to grasp is the idea that Assistive Technology is not a replacement for core concepts, but instead it aids understanding that may otherwise not have been possible.
Another common complaint against technology in the classrooms is the idea that schools should avoid giving students “more tools of mass distraction”. This article is from a Maclean’s magazine, published in 2010. The issue with this article is that technology has changed so much in the past six years. Therefore, the concerns raised (while certainly valid at that time) now seem dated. An example of this concern is written as such: “Texting, tweeting, surfing and updating your online profile have nothing to do with learning and no place in the classroom.” Given that this article is over six years old it suffers from a currency bias. While “tweeting and surfing” may have been an issue in 2010, there are now numerous ways for Twitter and the Internet as a whole to be used successfully in the classroom. One of the best examples of using Twitter in the classroom that I have seen is the use of Twitter as a Curation Tool. If you are interested in learning more about it, look to this excellent post written by Silvia Tolisano.
The final point I want to discuss is a possible solution to classroom distraction that stems from having iPhones and iPads in the hands of students. As stated in the article Ill Communication: Technology , distraction & student performance, we cannot be unaware of the fact that “mobile phones can be a source of great disruption… provide individuals with access to texting, games, social media, and the Internet.” Therefore, we as teachers need to have plans and procedures in place for when this moment does occur. While we all may believe that our lesson is so perfect that no students will ever be distracted, what happens when one or two students are wasting time on Snapchat? Do we take their phones away from them? And if that is our solution, how do they know access the technology that was so vital to the initial assignment? One possible solution to this problem was given by a colleague during our first class (I am unclear who said it, as it was located in the chat, feel free to give yourself credit in the comments :)). When dealing with Apple products, the possibility does exist to lock the devices so they are only able to use the one required app. The teacher must enter in a passcode in order to release the device from this state. Here is a link if you want to learn more about it. While this plan does come with drawbacks of its own (time consuming for the teacher, and privacy concerns for the student if the teacher has access to their phone), it certainly is a step in the right direction when discussing removing distractions from the technological classroom.
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And so ends my first blog post, discussing the idea that technology in the classroom enhances learning. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments and beginning a enlightening discussion about the successes and failures in your own classrooms.
Until next time,