Monday, November 19, 2012

How Technology Improves Student Learning and Sends More Kids to Graduate School


The modern teaching landscape has been changing in recent years, as Becoming a Better EFL Teacher has made note of on several occasions. Technology is often playing a bigger role in these shifts than many are willing to acknowledge, which is the focus of today’s post. Writer Sophia Foster of online learning resource http://www.mastersdegreeonline.org discusses the pros and cons of technology-assisted learning, and makes some predictions about the future.


Since the Internet was first introduced to the public less than 20 years ago and online access has increased worldwide, the use of technology in American classrooms has evolved from an occasional tool into a daily routine. While some educators remain speculative about the rising number of schools that incorporate smartphones and tablet devices into their curricula, the majority of teachers and administrators have noted the numerous benefits of fostering an appreciation for technology among today’s young people.

From chalkboards and No. 2 pencils to overhead projectors and slide rules, classrooms have historically embraced new learning implements on a widespread level. This has certainly proven true in the last two decades, as computer labs (typically one or two per school) have been replaced by laptop computers and/or tablet devices for each student. In 2010,
this movement was further bolstered by the National Education Technology Plan (NETP), created by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology and spearheaded by President Obama. The plan falls in line with the president’s goal of graduating 60 percent of American college students by 2020. “Education is vital to America's individual and collective economic growth and prosperity, and is necessary for our democracy to work,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in a letter to Congress. “To achieve this aggressive goal, we need to leverage the innovation and ingenuity this nation is known for to create programs and projects that every school can implement to succeed.”

The plan includes several new projects aimed at producing public school students with a knack for technology. One is Community Everywhere, a forum-based site that allows visitors to post questions and concerns, and then engage in discussion with other members of their community. Another, Learning Registry, allows administrators of sites for federal agencies (including NASA and the Smithsonian Institute) and NGOs to “tag” content so that it may be located by common search engines. In addition, the plan also supports independently funded projects, such as an “achievement badge” system inspired by contemporary video games sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla Foundation.

Nationwide, public and private schools have adopted the ideas put forth by the NETP. A recent article by NPR contributor Sam Evans-Brown
profiled Oyster River Middle School in Durham, N.H., where teachers permit students to bring their handheld smart-devices to class. But rather than using them to play games or post on Facebook, the tablets and phones function as daily planners and reference materials. To mitigate concerns among low-income families, the school also keeps a stock of spare iPads for students who cannot afford their own. The San Francisco Chronicle reported a similar program at another school, Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, which is supplemented by the “iSquad”, a team of tech-savvy faculty members committed to training the entire staff on how to use iPad tablets effectively by 2016. And FastCompany recently noted that schools across the country are implementing “vo-tech” STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs aimed at creating interest in these highly relevant subjects among students at low-income schools – many with the help of prominent technology firms like IBM.

In addition to classrooms, household Internet activity has also risen in recent years. According
to figures compiled by the Economics & Statistics Association, 68 percent of American households use broadband Internet service (which enables use of handheld devices), up four percentage points from the previous year; household computer ownership has also risen 15 percentage points in less than a decade. Another growing trend is ownership of phones capable of accessing the Internet. A report titled “Mobile Technology & Academics,” authored by two Boston College researchers, noted that since 2008, the number of students with smartphones has risen from 20 percent to more than 65 percent.

Still, the “smart-classroom” movement has its opponents. A recent article by State Impact NPR found that a significant contingent of
teachers view technology as merely one of many possible educational tools, none of which will replace the intrinsic value of a committed educator or classroom leader. Budgetary constraints are another concern. Cuts in state funding have led several schools to drop arts classes, physical education, after-school activities and other vital programs – and now many are expected to afford state-of-the-art-technology. Patty McNerney, technology director for an Ohio district, told The Dayton Daily that most of her school’s tech financing comes from private donations, grant monies and Title I funds. And Matt Burns of TechCrunch noted earlier this year that tablet devices in classrooms are likely to hinder the learning process for public school students, not effectively aid it as some have claimed. “Learning is still prevalent in schools, but the storage of facts and thoughts is not,” he noted. “Digital textbooks will only further this problem. Just click on a word to get its definition.”

However, as an article in The Telegraph noted two years ago, the
use of technology has the capability of altering the human learning process – and for many, this transformation has already taken place. Several educational experts argue that constant use of the Internet – which requires a constant stream of different reading materials, as opposed to a singular item like a book or magazine – has effectively altered the way we read information and mentally process it. This “associative” thinking brought on by web usage has replaced the more linear thinking in the minds of many adults and children, leaving them unable to read, write or generally concentrate on a specific task for a prolonged period of time. So, while individuals have become more tech-savvy and Internet-friendly, most learners are simply incapable of learning the old-fashioned way. “'It seems pretty clear that, for good or ill, the younger generation is being [remolded] by the web,” social psychologist Dr. Aleks Krotoski told The Telegraph. To that effect, educational institutions that incorporate technology in the classroom are keeping with the times.

Audrey Watters of The Digital Shift writes that today, the vast majority of schools have found ways to use technological implements – though
some have been more successful than others. She notes that many schools rely on outdated hardware, and simply do not supply enough devices/computers for students; according to NCES statistics from 2008, the ratio of children to Internet-equipped computers was 3:1 nationwide. She also urges schools to address logistical concerns, such as a large number of electronic devices simultaneously using one network, before heavily investing in technology and software.

Just as computers, smart-phones and tablets have transformed the classroom dynamic in the previous decade, the increased use of Internet for educational purposes stands to grow exponentially in the coming years. During this crucial trial period, teachers must find ways to incorporate web-based learning into their curricula – whether they approve of the current trend or not.
 

3 comments:

Grover said...

No less of a luminary than Stephen Krashen himself tweeted this little nugget today:

"Behind every faddish, jargon-filled plan is a dirty little scheme that ends up making somebody a lot of money."

The context is the sales forces out there trying to vacuum up the education dollars with sparkling trinkets and empty promises.

Technology has to have a purpose; cannot be deployed for its own sake. Each new wave becomes another distraction.

Tlumaczenia Biznesowe Angielski said...

Since the Internet was introduced over 20 years ago, there is a tru change of generations, both as regards teachers and students. There are new generation students already accustomed to new technologies, whereas there still are some teachers-dinosaurs not willing to catch up with the gizmos. There is nothing bad in it, but the effectiveness of a good educator supported by new technologies is undeniable! So get to work and learn something new to teach better then. :-)

Teacher Dan said...

I'm a technology advocate. Technology has its pros and cons but ultimately parents can help minimize the negative effects of technology so they won't be addicted. Technology makes learning fun.