Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why have technology in schools? What's the point?

Glad we're not still in this stage Abacus
Most of us have grown up and attended schools that utilized at least some form of technology, no matter how primitive. From middle school on, I've been all but reliant on my rusty, dusty TI-84 Plus and I, like many of my peers, shudder to think what I would do without it in calculus. I remember being annoyed with my mom for claiming that no one really "needs" a $100 calculator, but in retrospect, she was right. In theory, I didn't absolutely need a calculator, because I had my fingers and graph paper, and in theory, students could learn without any use of technology. Then why bother?

The simple answer is that technology makes everything easier. My calculator made graphing easier, just like a laptop makes research easier and a phone makes communicating easier. When a teacher allows students to upload papers into Google docs, she makes the lives of her students (who no longer have to buy a printer, ink and paper) and her own life much easier. As this blogger notes, technology tools such as YouTube and drop boxes have lessened the burden on students and teachers and increased the degree to which teachers can incorporate technology into their classrooms.  Having the option to email an assignment or upload it into Moodle in high school certainly decreased some of my stress. However, I think the presence of technology in education has a much grander purpose than just simplifying the process. By incorporating technology into the classroom, teachers provide the much needed link between what students learn and how they will use it.

A video like this can be an effective way to pique a third grader's interest in math and makes sure that he or she actually listens to the lesson. Math Video

Educators can also use technology to promote collaborative learning and allow students and teachers a forum to openly and easily communicate. I had a few online classes in high school, and a common thread among all of them were the discussion forums. Responding to a weekly prompt and having to leave a minimum number of comments could grow tedious, but oftentimes, it was interesting to see the perspectives from which my classmates and I viewed the same topic. One aspect of the class that I enjoyed was its ability to connect me with peers and ideas that 20 years ago were only accessible by planes or books. Unfortunately, I've also had those teachers for whom PowerPoint was the pinnacle of technology. Needless to say, their inability to engage the class resulted in more than a few people missing the importance of biodiversity or the causes of the Civil War. Had I the choice, I would have kindly directed certain teachers to this article and banned slideshows in my school.

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