I have been teaching for 7 years now and even over that short period of time there have been many advances in the types of technology available to us in schools. As I’ve stated previously I am a strong supporter of educational technology in the classroom due to it’s incredible capabilities for positive change. It certainly is able to close learning gaps in many areas as subjects like literacy and numeracy are made more tangible. As pointed out by Kyle Dumont, Erin Benjamin, and Jeremy Black this week, the positive nature of edtech goes beyond simply sprucing up a lecture to further engage students. Online tools for students with Learning Disabilities or apps designed to help build language skills are making the difference for many students who would otherwise be left behind. In addition, we now have the capability to have students visit famous museums on the other side of the world, skype with leading experts in a variety of fields and explore biodiversity face to face. However, is the technology use in our schools always justified? Are the positive aspects of edtech outweighing the negatives?
After all, surely many, if not all, teachers have experienced the frustrations with the implementation or management of technology in the classroom. From problems with the technology itself to the inherent issues that arise from student distractions caused by the technology, the Edtech in the classroom is not necessarily always effectively meeting the needs of students in the classroom. That is not to say that technology should be seen as a substitute for good teaching, as was mentioned by Jeremy Black this past week. On the contrary, many of the problems that teachers experience with Edtech manifest themselves because of lapses in planning and/or organization. So do we throw out technology and go back to bygone days of copious note taking from a blackboard? I don’t think this is the answer either.
What’s needed is a balanced approach to technology in the classroom. Educational technology is defined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.” The key word in this definition is appropriate. Technology in the classroom is just like any other learning enhancement tool. Like overhead projectors, gestetners, or papyrus, technology is simply a tool to facilitate learning. Therefore, teachers must constantly be asking themselves if the use of this “tool” is helping facilitate and enhance learning in my classroom?
So how do parents and teachers perceive Edtech? In this podcast parents and teachers share their perceptions about the implementation of Edtech and where the movement is headed. One pertinent example is of a young Grade 1 student who went home and told her mother that she had been playing on the computer for the whole afternoon at school. There was little to no communication to parents about what the technology was being used for, and the student couldn’t name an authentic learning activity that she was using through the technology. Herein lies one of the major difficulties of Edtech integration. It must be carefully planned, organized and transparent. It must have a purpose. If the technology is simply a tool that is being used because it’s what teachers and parents think should be used, the point is missed. Edtech tools must aid in facilitation and improvement of learning. One of the best and most recent strategies to address the issue of Edtech integration is Blended Learning. The idea describes a balanced approach to technology in education as students work with technology in small groups as well as being opportunities to work on problem solving tasks and projects. Students are much more involved in their own learning and have opportunities for personalized exploration.
The issue is further explored in the Economist:Is Edtech transforming Education? In this podcast, some of the success and challenges of Edtech integration in the developing world are addressed. Clearly, technology has the ability to bridge gaps for students who live in developing countries and give teachers in these areas of the world the power for tremendous learning in their classrooms. However, there are also cost, access and maintenance issues that are proving to be a struggle for schools in the developing world. On the positive side of things, making learning more individualized is always a good thing. Students in a blended learning model have the ability to drive the questioning process and have more freedom to explore. They also have the opportunity to apply their learned knowledge in hands on ways.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the world is becoming more interconnected everyday. It seems futile to resist the flow of technological advancement and especially so in the education field. The advancements in Edtech even over the last 5 years have facilitated and augmented learning environments across the world. For all the distractions, cost issues, and maintenance problems, we must remember that these tech tools are not simply tools to foster learning, they are now also woven into the very fabric of our daily lives. As long as teachers continue to remember to integrate Edtech through planned, organized, appropriate, and transparent facilitation of learning, these tools will continue to positively affect learning outcomes.