Using technology in the classroom is one of those issues that makes it easy to be a fence sitter. It’s difficult to be 100% for the use of educational technology all of the time, when there are so many convincing arguments against it. Most teachers find a happy medium with technology—it’s useful in some situations, but a distraction in others.
This great article on Huffington post offers an example of a kindergarten classroom where young learners use technology naturally and in authentic ways. The article also goes on to discuss the problems many pediatricians have with technology use by young children, such as excessive screen time, which can lead to poor sleep habits. In addition, doctors worry that children who use devices at a very young age become more focused on learning to select and swipe than on developmental processes, like handwriting and shoe-tying.
Technology gives children the ability to learn in ways their parents and grandparents never had. Today’s learners have immediate access to answers and research. Yet, that immediate access is changing the way students think about work and how they feel emotionally. We’ve put together a list of some the pros and cons that surround the technology in the classroom debate.
Pros of Technology in the Classroom
- Data and analytic reporting: Apps and platforms offer teachers ways to combine all the information they might need to know about a student—title I status, attendance history, performance on quizzes, English language proficiency, participation in special education. With this information, teachers can easily see how their students are preforming as a whole class, as a subgroup, and as individuals, and can provide intervention as needed. Most edtech apps include easy to use reporting features, so that assessment data can also be shared with administrators and parents.
- Just in time information: This article from Computerworld explains how just in time learning is helping cooperate workers learn what they need to in order to solve immediate problems, rather than siting through entire classes full of information they may not ever use. The same goes for classroom learning. Edtech is allowing teachers to see where students may be missing particular pieces of understanding and to then target lessons just for that knowledge. Instead of sitting through hour-long lectures of material they’ve mostly mastered, technology is allowing students to learn what they need, when then need it.
- Differentiated instruction: Educational apps allow for students to progress at their own pace. Many are adaptive, meaning that questions and problems will get easier or more difficulty, depending on student performance. Programs can adjust to meet students at their precise learning levels. In addition, the multitude of apps and software available means that students in the same classroom might be using different systems to learn similar material, depending on their interests and learning.
- Different learning modalities: Incorporating technology into the classroom means that students have exposure and access to different ways of learning. Maybe some students do thrive in a lecture environment; others might be great independent learners, who can gather information from educational software. Giving students the choice of different ways to learn means they’ll likely explore and try different techniques, and in the end, learn the best strategies for themselves as individual learners.
- Assistive tech for special needs: We’ve covered apps specially designed for special education teachers and students in the past. Educational technology makes it possible for students with special needs to thrive in academic settings. From adaptive word processor apps to programs that speak for children who struggle with language, technology allows students to communicate and be involved with their teachers and classmates.
Cons of Technology in the Classroom
- Replacing teachers: Many tech enthusiasts roll their eyes when people voice their concerns that educational technology is a way to replace teachers in the future. But do their concerns lack validity? You don’t have to look too far in the past to find instances of technology replacing workers: the auto industry, agriculture, and manufacturing industries have all mechanized many parts of their process, laying off workers in the process. While few people think that teachers will become obsolete, the newest advances in edtech are powerful enough to deliver content, assesses, and set students on a new course of learning, all without teacher intervention. What does that mean for the future of teaching?
- Distracting: This is probably the number one worry of teachers who consider implementing classroom technology: the concern that students will be too busy tweeting and Snapchatting to pay attention to the lesson. Students’ innate curiosity, coupled with their tech savvy could lead to more online socializing in environments where devices are easily accessible.
- Easier to access others’ work: Plagiarism has been plaguing teachers forever. Students today can easily access essays, reports, class notes, tests, etc. online, making it that much more difficult for teachers to know if the work their students hand in is original. Though there are tech tools to help teachers discover if the work is plagiarized, no system is perfect.
- Disparity of access outside of class: Not all of our students have access to technology tools outside of the classroom. Yes, the library is an option, but there is often a wait for computers connected to the Internet, and even then, you can’t download apps and software onto public computers. Assigning technology use in the classroom is fine if all students have access to the device. But when edtech programs are considered for homework, at home intervention, or even flipped learning, student access to the Internet must be considered.
- Privacy: Privacy of student information and data is enough of an issue to keep many teachers and schools away from implementing any sort of broad reaching tech initiatives. Apps and platforms have come a long way in improving their privacy measures, especially where students are involved, but is it enough to convince schools that it’s worth the potential risk? Student data is invaluable within the classroom walls, but can teachers feel safe that that is where the information will stay when they use edtech apps?
There’s no right or wrong side of this debate. Educational technology has its plusses and minuses. It’s up to teachers, administrators, and district personnel to decide whether the good outweighs the bad. We’d love to hear where you stand on these issues.
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Project-based learning has proven to be one of the most effective ways to engage students and provide a practical application for what they’re learning. Rachelle Dene Poth shares her insights into what project-based learning looks like, and how it helps students master key skills as they complete each project. Read on for some tips and helpful information!
Project-based learning (PBL) is something that I have been trying to integrate into my classes more over the past few years. I started thinking about alternate ways to enable students to:
- produce authentic assessments,
- create and study something that was interesting and engaging for them, and
- provide some real-world learning experiences.
Project-based learning not only provides opportunities for students to collaborate or drive their own learning, but it also teaches them skills such as problem solving, and helps to develop additional skills integral to their future, such as critical thinking and time management. And maybe more importantly, it provides students with an opportunity to create authentic projects which are personal and meaningful to them. Students have the chance to pursue their own interests and as a result, opportunities for learning for students and teachers are tremendous.
SUPPORTING ALL STUDENTS
As a foreign language teacher, I need to assess my students in a variety of ways on a regular basis. As we all know, not every person learns the same way or has the same interests. In terms of assessment, some students can learn the material really well, but when a traditional test is given, their information and knowledge somehow disappears.
When this first happened in my classes, I began looking more at ways to assess my students–but to provide assessments which led to more authentic and personalized work. I wanted to provide an equal opportunity for students to achieve success in showing what they know (and can do) with the information that they have learned.
A great way to do this is through project-based learning. There are an increasing number of tools available for use in the classroom that enable students to have a choice and be creative, while also learning valuable technology skills for their future. These tools give students options for showing what it is they have learned and can do with the material, but in a way that is comfortable and relevant and meets their interests and needs. Most importantly, the students have choices and this makes a huge difference.
BENEFITS OF USING DIGITAL TOOLS FOR PBL
The options provide students with a variety of choices for showing their creativity, make learning more meaningful, and students become more engaged in what they are doing. Students can focus on an area of personal interest and decide how to show what they have learned and can do, in a way that is meaningful and engaging.
Many tools are available, both on the web and as apps, that serve to engage, motivate, and inspire students to learn more. The benefit of using web tools for PBL is twofold.
First, students can create something vibrant, engaging, and meaningful because they have chosen their area of interest, put their personal touches on it and, as a result, attach the content material with what they have created. They then retain the information better because they have created something for a real world experience.
It also teaches them the vital technology skills that they need moving forward, and gives them skills that can be used in other classes, and for their future. Learning to create multimedia presentations, to problem solve, think critically, quickly access resources, and communicate with others helps to empower students, and give them more control in their learning and growth process. We want to empower our students in their learning.
PAPER OR DIGITAL, PBL BENEFITS EVERYONE
There are many options available for implementing and producing evidence of project-based learning, whether it be in the traditional paper format style or through technology. Either way, giving students the opportunity to create a project to evidence their learning is beneficial. It not only leads to authentic products and meets the students where they are, but also gives them an opportunity to express themselves in unique ways, because it is more personalized and pertinent to their needs and interests. PBL leads to a more student-centered classroom and provides opportunities for students to learn from one another. It also enables the teacher to become more of a facilitator, and in addition to learning about the students, it reinforces the student-centered classroom, where students are empowered in their learning.
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