What impact does technology have on learning outcomes? This is a key and recurring question that seeks to either challenge or validate the role of tech in the classroom. The answers usually depend on who is learning, who is teaching, and what is being taught (rather obviously).
However, the more important factor is that the answer depends on how each of those three relate themselves to the use of technology, and which technology is being used.
For example: if you try to teach philosophy to mature age students you will have a different impact from most technologies than when teaching coding to undergrads. This is irrespective of the technology being used. How then can we evaluate technology in learning? With so many variable factors and conditional effects it can be too hard to make general observations or conclusions.
In this case we can still look at more specific situations and examine the impact there, and then try to extrapolate inherent value from there. This can help us answer the question of why we should include technology in our classroom.
Returning to the above three factors, we can take the teacher out of the subjective elements by taking a default assumption that any professional educator will use/adopt the methods and tools appropriate to the content and students. This altruistic view does not always fly, but I believe it is a fair position given that teaching is a service profession aimed at achieving measurable results.
This leaves us the students and the subject. For students it can be an even simpler equation. Younger students (whom we might call digital natives) who are clearly adjusted to technology adoption should be considered top candidates for classroom technology. Even on low-income situations children have shown that with shared or infrequent access to technology they can quickly embrace and absorb its nuances and proclivities to great effect. Certain technologies are more easily adopted by this demographic, including social media, collaboration and referencing as well as game based learning.
This just leaves us the question of the subject. Which subjects can leverage technology in the classroom? Now it begins to depend on the technology, and here we find the need to correctly mesh the tech with the content. Some tech is generic and is merely a substitute for existing non-digital alternatives. Leaving such generics aside as being obvious “upgrades”, we can then consider more specialised or exotic technology solutions for classroom use. This now might get complicated…
If we look at pedagogical structures we ask if technologies improve construction of knowledge, synthesis of knowledge, or enhance executive execution in decision making. Online tools improve speed of access to greater volumes of information. Digital formats improve referencing, cross-referencing, filtering and locating key information much faster than non-digital methods. Digital collaboration tools disseminate work and communications faster, provide faster feedback loops to more people, and allow richer discussions by threading them. Multimedia technologies broaden the input spectrum (audio and visual) and provide richer content than can be provided by classroom teachers.
When we look at it from this perspective there is no instance I can see where appropriate digital or online technology cannot improve upon the tested and proven learning mechanisms. Since we strongly believe that educational processes should be informed by pedagogical reasoning we need go no further in order to say that embracing suitable technologies in the classroom will bring more benefits than doing without it.
So, its not so complicated after all!
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