Technological Benefits Outweigh Concerns in Today’s Classrooms

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.

Students Ipad

Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc
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,

Kyle Ottenbreit

 

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5 thoughts on “Technological Benefits Outweigh Concerns in Today’s Classrooms

  1. Thanks for sharing Kyle! Way to be the brave one to get it done and published so quickly. You make some valid points here. I agree that the article that is six years old is in this case part of the tech problem. Technology is advancing so quickly, but the feedback on it and printed materials become outdated so quickly, it’s difficult for it to maintain its relavence. Keeping up with using technology, understanding it and implementing it are all very important but difficult to do because of the rapid pace technology changes and advances at.

    Great blog! Thx for sharing.

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  2. Great post Kyle! Your initial quote that with great power comes great responsibility is so very true for all of the stakeholders involved. Technology is so much more than an app or an assistive tech tool like you explain. The true and lasting benefits come from the interaction we have with the technology, which is forever enhanced by the people who help us learn and the digital culture in which we learn. I appreciate your use of the word mindful. We as educators, parents and learners in today’s world need to mindfully engage with the tools available and thoughtfully integrate them into our teaching.

    I’ve used the Guided access features on the iPad and it can be quite effective if you’ve had a clear conversation about expectations with the student. I support many students throughout our division (Intense needs and RtI) and what our teams have come to see is that the effectiveness of the app you use is dependent upon how you’ve explained it to the student. If you want to avoid student frustration because they can’t do what they want on the iPad, it’s important to have set up clear expectations and had the conversation with students about how this process is going to work. Like you say Kyle, the tool is only useful if it can actually aid our students. Simply giving the students a 3 minute overview of Google Read Write won’t likely change their behaviour or skill set (in most cases) unless we create an environment where the teacher supports the use of and helps the students build their skill set.

    Thank-you for sharing!

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  3. Great post! I appreciated that you not only noted the complaints of using technology in the classroom, but unlike many articles I read on the Internet (but not the blogs from this class… way to go colleagues!), you actually proposed solutions to these problems. Everything is worth a try, and even if it may be time-consuming outright, in the end it will save time instead of having to manage difficulties in the classroom. I’m finding parallels with the upfront cost of technology, to having it be worth it in the end for engaged students. I know that I will put in the time before if it will encourage a more engaged and on task learning environment in the classroom.

    Thanks for the post! I look forward to your next one!

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  4. Hi Kyle. I also think you are brave and efficient to be the one to post first 🙂 I was struck, as you were, by the fact that technology can be designed specifically to distract and to draw attention. So the ‘great learning apps’ you refer to have a lot to compete with. Good food for thought. Thanks for your post. angela

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