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Pros and cons: Tech in Schools

Education

What should schools and teachers keep in mind when deciding what types of technology to use?

While technology can be leveraged to help educators personalise lessons and experiment with pedagogy, it can also distract students from the important basic skills of listening and interacting with others. So, what are some of the pros and cons of using technology in schools? Moreover, what should schools and teachers keep in mind when deciding what types of technology to use?

Tech in Schools: Pros

Adaptive learning

Every student learns at a different rate and in different ways. Adaptive learning (AL) technologies can help by analysing students’ performance in real-time and modify teaching methods based on that data. 

For example, Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI), allows students to learn at an individual pace, receive constant feedback and participate in virtual labs, simulations and other application-based educational activities. Software like Reading Counts can suggest reading materials based on areas where readers need to improve, such as vocabulary or comprehension.

Student engagement

Technology is a format most students are drawn to naturally, so its use can increase engagement and participation. One way it can do this is through “gamifying” the classroom. For example, digital student response systems can be used with classroom quizzes to help teachers measure student understanding. The free Plickers tool uses QR codes on answer cards which are held up by students. 

Blended learning, where the curriculum is partially delivered in person and partially via digital tools can also increase engagement. For example, Padlet is a free tool that allows students to add their responses to a classroom display. This type of software also provides instant feedback, which can save teachers time. 

Data reporting  and freeing teachers’ time

Today’s teachers are required to record and report a large amount of data on student progress. Technology can certainly help with this. Apps and platforms can track everything from attendance to quiz performance, writing proficiency and participation. Reports can be automatically generated to inform administrators and parents, and to quickly identify students in need of extra attention. Programs like Top Hat, for instance, can even allow teachers to manage tests securely in a digital environment that automatically grades them.

One professor at Georgia Tech recently coded an artificially intelligent teaching assistant, dubbed Jill Watson. Jill was able to answer a selection of student questions and pass any that “she” couldn’t handle to a real person. Technology like this could one day be used to help students with basic questions, freeing teachers to concentrate on more one-to-one learning.

Collaboration

Technology can also help the collaboration between students and teachers. Many universities now use learning management systems such as Moodle or Blackboard, to upload and manage course content. In addition, these systems allow students to share information, work together on group projects and interact with the instructor. Eventually, similar systems could be used in secondary schools.

Creating digital citizens

We live in a digital world where technology is a life skill. Being digitally literate is now a requirement in education. This is more than obtaining isolated technological skills. It’s about learning to intuitively adapt to new contexts and new technologies. Creating presentations, learning to differentiate reliable from unreliable sources on the Internet and maintaining proper online etiquette are all vital skills that students can learn in the classroom. 

Tech in Schools: Cons

Not enough socialising

Let’s face it, most students spend enough time staring at screens at home, without also staring at screens all day at school. For teachers, there may also be a tendency to rely on technology at the expense of human “face time”. However, there is new evidence that too much screen time can have an adverse impact on brain development in young children and can cause children of all ages to underperform in school. Even at the university level, new research is showing that students who use computers or tablets during lectures learn less and earn worse grades than those who take notes the old-fashioned way – with pen and paper.

This is why schools that are incorporating digital tech in the classroom need to ensure they set guidelines and expectations on its use. They should also set aside a minimum number of hours each week when students are not using screens. Classroom assignments should use both technological tools and group collaboration, so students will learn to be dynamic in how they learn as well as interact with others.

Cheating

While students have always found ways to cheat, the digital age makes this even easier — from copying-and-pasting to hiring an essay writer online. Technology has created an arms race, where schools use plagiarism detection software and students find new ways to get around it. To avoid this, teachers need to structure assignments and exams in a way that makes cheating difficult, such as making exams open-book and focussing on problem-solving. 

Inequality

There are many students who can’t afford iPads, laptops or even high-speed internet connections. For these students, requiring access to the internet or technology in order to complete assignments would be a barrier to learning and succeeding. To avoid this, teachers and schools need to ensure that tech and online education is incorporated in a way that makes it accessible to all students.

Unused potential

There is nothing worse, from a school administrators’ point of view than buying expensive tech and seeing it wasted. Having a computer in every classroom is pointless if it is mostly used for games and Googling. Schools need to make sure that any tech they purchase comes with training and support, and that the school has a plan in place for incorporating the tech into lesson plans, instruction and key aspects of the classroom. For some schools, this may prove time-consuming and too complex. 

The verdict?

There is no doubt that the benefits of education technology outweigh the disadvantages. Moreover, the technology genie is already out of the bottle. Which is why students need to know how to manage it in order to succeed. However, this doesn’t mean that schools should rush blindly into adopting any system that sounds good. 

Before adopting any new technology, schools need to evaluate whether it will enhance the learning environment, and improve the teacher-student relationship – because that is where education happens. Technology is not a replacement for high-quality teaching. Rather, it should be viewed as a tool for creating a flexible learning environment that breeds innovation and collaboration.