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Technology In Education - Why?

  • Written by Jake Glasgow
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Submitted by: Jake Glasgow, Instructional Technology Specialist from Upstate NY

There has been a lot of chatter lately about whether integrating technology into the classroom is having an impact on student learning.  "Where is the data that justifies the millions of dollars spent on technology?"   I urge you to read the September 3rd, 2011 NY Times article by Matt Richtel entitled; "In Classroom of Future, Stagnent Scores." A fantastic article which thoughtfully pokes at many of the uncertainties regarding technolgy that school districts face today.

Many say that students can learn content without technology in the classroom, and I don't disagree.  We know this to be true because prior to technology in education students still learned and passed tests.  If students can 'succeed in school' without  technology, why are we spending so much time, energy, and money to get it into our classrooms?  This is a valid question...but one that raises even more questions.

When students were succeeding in school with no technology, we were also living in a world with little technology, and preparing students for life in a world where technology wasn't a part of their daily lives.

An excerpt from Sir Ken Robinson's talk, "Changing Education Paradigms."

"...The problem is they are trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past. And on the way they are alienating millions of kids who don't see any purpose in going to school. When we went to school we were kept there with the story, which is if you worked hard and did well and got a college degree you'd have a job. Our kids don't believe that and they are right not to..."

When I saw Sir Ken Robinson speak at a recent NYSCATE conference he said something to the effect of, 'Technology isn't technology if it already existed when you were born.'  Think about it.... "Wow," I thought.  Our children are born in to this, and don't know anything different.  To our children, this is just 'how it is.'  I am 34 years old and don't think twice about cordless phones or wireless remotes on televisions, but I bet they were a big deal when they first came out.

Of course this will have an impact on how we educate our children. This is not like when they allowed calculators to be used in school!

Take a look at this video from the Pearson Foundation entitled "Learning To Change/Changing To Learn: Student Voices."

  • What would students just 10 years ago have said if asked how technology has effected their lives and their education?
  • What will students be saying 10 years from now?


Why should we include technology in the education of our children?  Here are some very well thought out answers to that question written by John Page.  (John Page is a software designer living in California's Silicon Valley. He is the author of the free online geometry textbook Math Open Reference - Thanks, John!)

Reason 1. Expansion of time and place

  • In a typical high school a student has access to a teacher 40 minutes per day. That means she has access to that teacher 5% of her waking day, and even that time is shared with 25 classmates. She has access to the Internet 100% of the time. That's 20X better.
  • Technology is no substitute for an inspiring teacher. However, on-line materials are far more available. Twenty times more.
  • Using the "textbook plus classroom" approach, the places where learning can occur are limited. On the other hand, a wireless laptop has access to the teacher's course material and the entire Internet almost anywhere. This is also a vastly larger resource than can be practically carried on paper in a backpack.
  • Bottom line: information technology allows learning anywhere, anytime; not just in one particular classroom for forty minutes a day.

Reason 2. Depth of Understanding

  • Interactive simulations and illustrations can produce a much greater depth of understanding of a concept. When virtual manipulatives are used in a classroom setting they can go far beyond chalk and talk. Using a projector, the teacher can conduct onscreen investigations and demonstrate concepts far more easily than with just words and arm-waving. For example see Subtended Angles.
  • Because the students have access to the same tools over the web, they can reinforce the ideas by experimenting with the simulations themselves, any time, any where.

Reason 3. Learning vs. Teaching

  • Technology allows the tables to be turned. Instead of teaching (push), students can be given projects that require them to learn (pull) the necessary material themselves. Key to this is the ability to get the information they need any time anywhere, without being in the physical presence of a teacher. This project-based pull approach makes learning far more interesting for the student. I have seen firsthand how students cannot wait to get out of regular classes to go to the after-school robotics project.

Reason 4. New media for self-expression

  • In the old days, students could write in a notebook, and what they wrote was seen only by the teacher. Using modern technology they can: Make a PowerPoint presentation, record/edit spoken word, do digital photography, make a video, run a class newspaper, run a web based school radio or TV station, do claymation, compose digital music on a synthesizer, make a website, create a blog.


Reason 5. Collaboration

  • A vital skill in the new digital world is the ability to work collaboratively on projects with others who may not be physically close. This can best be done using modern computer tools such as the web, email, instant messaging and cell phone. Rather than laboring alone on homework, students can work in small groups wherever they happen to be and at any time. They are doing this already (it used to be called cheating) - it can now be formalized and taught as a vital skill. Many university projects are undertaken by teams spread around the world. Students need to be prepared for this.

Reason 6. Going Global

  • The worldview of the student can be expanded because of the zero cost of communicating with other people around the globe. The Internet permits free video conferencing which permits interaction in real time with sister schools in other countries. From an educational viewpoint, what could be more important than understanding other cultures through direct dialog and collaboration?

Reason 7. Individual pacing and sequence

  • Students are, of course, all different. Information technologies can permit them to break step with the class and go at a pace and order that suits that student better. Without disrupting the class, they can repeat difficult lessons and explore what they find interesting. With time, it will become more like having a private tutor rather than being lost in a large class.

Reason 8. Weight

  • Three textbooks and three binders easily weigh over 25lb. A laptop computer weighs about 5lb and provides access to infinitely more material via its own storage and the Internet. A 40Gb hard drive can hold 2 million pages with illustrations; the web is unfathomably large. Right now, students are getting back injuries lugging around a tiny subset of what they need in the form of black marks on slices of dead trees. And it's just static, boring text.

Reason 9. Personal Productivity

  • Students need productivity tools for the same reasons you do. They need to write, read, communicate, organize and schedule. A student's life is not much different from any knowledge worker, and they need similar tools. Even if they are never used in the classroom, portable personal computers will make a student's (and teacher's) life more effective. To cash in this benefit, schools need to go paperless.

Reason 10. Lower Cost

  • It is not unusual for a textbook to cost over $120, and in community colleges, where they are purchased by the student, they can cost more than the tuition itself.
  • Through the use of open, free educational tools on the web, the dependence on expensive paper textbooks can be reduced. There is a growing movement to create and publish this type of material through organizations such as OER Commons. OER stands for Open Educational Resources and the idea is to follow the open source model made popular by software projects such as Linux. Material is created by the educational community itself then freely shared.
  • Today (Nov 2007) a decent laptop can be bought for $399, the price of a few textbooks. Right now we need both the paper books and the computer, but that is simply a transitional phase.


Take a look at this video entitled: "The Evolution of Technology and the Human Race"

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The world is not the same as it was 15, 10, 5, even 1 year ago.  This is a fact.

It is our job as educators to prepare our students to succeed in the world as it is (will be) the best we can.  This is a fact.

With the world changing as it is largely due to technology wouldn't it make sense to include technology in education?

Where does this leave us with proof?

  • Do we have loads of data explaining why we need to integrate technology into education?

No...not yet. When we do, what form will this data take?

  • Will we ever have this data?

I don't know, but I'd be willing to bet that if we REMOVED all current technology from education today, there might all of a sudden be plenty of reasons why we all would need it back!  Perhaps more immediate answers lie in that scenario.

Obviously - just purchasing technology and putting it into a classroom isn't going to do anything.  It's all in how our teachers are using it to facilitate student learning. This is where the problem is.  It's past time to address this.  Are webinars, PD's and conferences really the answer?  Are they working? Are only some working? Are we currently living in a grey area of time where some understand the tools available and some don't? - so many questions.  One thing is for sure...Technology is here for good.