School in Pixels

Will the increasing technology in schools really benefit student learning?

Walking through the halls of West Woods Upper Elementary (5th and 6th grade) in Farmington, Connecticut you will see rows of Chromebook carts. These carts in the hallways outside of each class contain 32 Chromebooks, one for each of the students in the school, and cost $10,000 each. Based on the school population at West Woods being 600 students, the carts in total would cost $200,000!

This expansion of technology in the classroom, and spending of tax dollars on it, has often been looked upon as necessary. It is said that computers are implemented to improve engagement, allow for more dynamic learning, and for the greater ease of teachers. This technology connects school to the outside world which is rapidly changing and technology rich. But does the integration of computers and other devices such as tablets really lead to greater comprehension and learning in the classroom? Or does the increasing influx of new technology just lead to an increase in distractions, especially among young students?

Before an argument about the effectiveness in technology in the classroom can be made, the expenses of the school district first have to be addressed. If a school can not pay for the technology it does not make sense for the school to consider buying it. For example the Kyrene school district in Arizona, which serves total of 18,000 students, decided to restructure all of their schools around technology. The town decided to invest $46 million over seven years. This money fell upon taxpayers who live in “cookie cutter suburban homes and salmon-hued mini-mansions”. For the citizens a tax raise was not an issue, as the yearly amount paid by each person was raised only $60. If a similar investment in technology was proposed in an inner-city, stricken with poverty, the situation might be different. With the public not being able to support the cost of a technological improvement in schools, government funding or that raised by the people should be spent somewhere else.

Some of the other areas in education where the money could be spent includes hiring more experienced teachers and making teachers attend more faculty development sessions. Technology by itself can only go so far. It is the icing on the cake, but first there has to be a strong foundation of teaching underneath that is able to effectively reach the students in the classroom. As stated by historian and NPR contributor, Kenneth Davis, “Technology is just a tool, and it has its limits… I’ve seen teachers completely dedicated to making their students interested, enthusiastic, energetic learners, and using technology is just one of the ways to do that”.

Many amazing minds have been fostered in an educational system where there was no use of computers and tablets. Less technology in the classroom can allow for an even stronger teacher-student connection. With technology in the classroom a need to “have to monitor the kids a lot more” arises”. This takes away from a school environment and removes students attention from actually learning.

The use of technology in the classroom relies heavily on teachers. “Teachers need to be able to integrate technology into the classroom” and formulate lessons that utilize its full power. Computers can be used for a lot more than just simple tasks. Lessons created around the internet and technology should not be limited to students being “asked to copy-and-paste bits of information they find online into Powerpoint slides with our being challenged to think about how to select good material or how to construct a strong argument”. Technology in no way can substitute teachers in the classroom, but it can be used to allow for the further engagement of student. Technology, when used correctly, can allow students and faculty to connect directly with learning. One example of this is where students participate in “interactive digital conversations”. In classrooms hooked up via Skype students can discuss topics directly with historians, medical professionals, speakers of foreign languages, etc. in a class setting. This allows for a greater diversity of learning opportunities for students where they can be exposed to a greater amount of information and opinions that teachers in the school could not provide on their own.

These new teaching methods connect the students with the world around them. “Educators should allow kids to communicate in the classroom the way they do outside of school… Kids don’t express themselves with chalk or in cursive. Kids text.”

Social media and all of these new forms of communication surround kids 24/7. The removal of digital tools in the classroom often causes the modern student to become bored, referring to school as a jail. But many believe that this overstimulation that the modern student craves is actually hindering their learning. A more focused learning without using a screen or the sound of music could be just what is needed for the deep focus to comprehend difficult subjects. Many studies have shown the connection between learning and physically writing with a pen or pencil. “Kids who learn to read more quickly when they are taught to write by hand, rather than on a computer”. Physically writing things down and reading information and stories in books creates a greater connection with the material. The enhanced comprehension of text over time trains the brain to collect information quicker with more accuracy. With this it can be seen that technology can actually hinder the educational development of students.

This information might connect to why people have found the increase of technology in the classroom inconclusive. While Karen Cator, former Apple executive, stated “Test scores are the same, but look at all of the other things students are doing: learning to use the internet to research, learning to organize their work…”, this information brings up an important point. The use of technology on its own can not help students with the basic retention of knowledge, skills, and the ability to analyze information in order to be successful on these tests. With the internet, the answer to every question that a student has is just a click away. Much less thinking is needed in order to come up with a response than if it was all discovered completely independently. But technology is extremely effective when paired with interactive teachers and thoughtful lessons.

If districts already have the educational backbone onto which the integration of technology can be implemented then they should definitely spend the money to increase its prevalence. Technology is the way of the future in the word that we live in and more exposure to that from a young age can lead to a greater development of skills surrounding this. But technology has still not replaced the pencil and the paper and its value in education. If stretched for money it would be much more beneficial for a school district to spend its money on teacher development so that the teachers can take the place of technology by making lessons as interactive as possible.