Thanks to technology, the world is an incredibly small place and knowledge is easier to find than ever before. So how important is technology in the 21st Century classroom? One way to answer that question is to weigh the pros and the cons. But first, classroom technology should be defined.
What is classroom technology
In this article, references to technology in the classroom are used broadly. They encompass everything from computers and laptops, to tablets, smartphones, software, applications, and operating systems. It includes curriculum supported with technology and recognizes that we are advancing technology and increasing digital information at a phenomenal rate.
The Pros of technology in the classroom
Diverse learning materials
In the past, the classroom consisted of teachers delivering lessons to their students, who had to combine the information delivered by the teacher and printed text. If students needed assistance understanding a lesson concept they could ask someone in their household, crack open the encyclopedia, or take a trip to the library for more information. Assignments were often given verbally with graded papers returned to students for their reference.
Students with tablets or computers have the virtual world at their fingertips. Technology opens a gateway to different styles of teaching and learning. Digital devices deliver access to more than books and assignments. There are a host of applications, or apps, developed specifically for educators and students. Podcasts, webinars, videos and e-books only scratch the surface of what technology in the classroom provides for the learning experience.
Ideas in science textbooks are no longer limited to illustrations, but can be demonstrated through videos of experiments or animations. Content is on demand and it is delivered with a variety of learning styles in mind, whether it’s a spatial, aural, verbal, logical, solitary, social or verbal. No more one size fits all. Students can simply type a search term or click a link, watch a video or slideshow, focus on a concept they found challenging, participate in discussions, and engage with learning and technology.
Student focus and enthusiasm
Thanks to the speediness of the Internet and digital educational content, lessons can seamlessly transition between videos, text, audio, discussions and more. Technology has made education dynamic in ways never before possible, and according to Boundless (n.d.), as a result students are more engaged and excited about learning. Technology in the classroom has created a network of knowledge to give students the ability to learn collectively as well as individually. It takes tremendous effort to extract the knowledge contained in a heavy backpack full of textbooks. While it still takes work to learn through technology, the focus is on the material, as opposed to mechanics and logistics. Dynamic digital learning material is much more interesting than the walk to the library.
That’s not to suggest that the old, traditional methods of learning don’t have a place in school. Students definitely need to develop skills in using the library and even handwriting, as suggested in Boundless. These logistical pieces to the learning puzzle are important; they are the puzzle’s border; the basis of the entire picture of learning. However, while the construction of the border of a puzzle is important, the vast majority of the pieces are not border pieces. In this learning puzzle metaphor, the internal pieces consist of higher concepts and lessons. It doesn’t make sense to have more border pieces in a puzzle than one needs.
Digital literacy for the 21st Century
The rapid development of technology in the world is changing everything. The technological revolution has brought about new ways of life in much the same way the Industrial Revolution did. As a result, the demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs is outpacing supply, according to Phil Davies (2014) in the fed gazette. The United States is looking for solutions to this problem; Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. has introduced legislation to create a “corps” of the best STEM teachers to improve STEM education in the K-12 system, and to encourage more students to pursue STEM degrees in college.
As technology becomes increasingly common, the need for technological employment in all geographic areas is occurring. Davies writes about the needs of employers to staff operations in areas without STEM education. Places like North Dakota need homegrown or native STEM students, as they are most likely to populate the area. With increased demand for technology, comes increased demand for the design and manufacturing of technology. Beyond that, there’s the need to install, run and maintain it. There’s technology in commerce, construction, and farming – it’s everywhere.
Digital literacy doesn’t only need to extend to STEM-related learning and employment though. Being digitally literate and able to use technology extends into other vocations as well. The interconnectedness of our world through the Internet provides an opportunity for anybody to monetize the unique skills they’ve acquired. Kids have been told they can grow up to be whatever they want for decades, and through the ability to use technology to achieve their goals, that’s more true now than ever before.
Online communication in the classroom… and out of it
Thanks to technology, students have new ways to communicate with their peers and teachers, anytime and anywhere. Schools can build their own social networks where lessons, assignments and discussions can be displayed, and questions answered. As Timothy Honeycutt noted (2013), through technology students can learn many different methods of interpersonal and interorganizational communications.
This will help students get answers they need. When a question arises, they can find the answer or answers quickly and efficiently. Students in schools that support technology no longer need to remember their questions while they work to keep an arm raised over head. Teachers place all assignments online allowing students and parents easy access to tasks and deadlines, often including the cumulative results of their coursework.
The Cons of technology in the classroom
To be honest, the pros of classroom technology, as well as STEM education far outweigh the cons. Furthermore, the cons are all obvious things; the dark side of making things easier. For instance, technology enables the intellectually lazy and dishonest by making it easier to cheat. “Cyberslackers” can also get off task, and at best work on assignments from another class, and at worst surf the Internet for completely unrelated things. Lastly, while the Internet is full of great information and vast resources, it’s also full of misinformation and bad resources. The challenge is teaching students to fact check.
In the end, it’s a no-brainer. To stay competitive, students must have the opportunity to use technology, so they can be as digitally literate as their peers around the world. Physical borders disappear within cyberspace. Today’s students need technology to compete globally, helping them succeed at tomorrow’s jobs.
(N.D.). Advantages of Using Technology in the Classroom. Boundless. Retrieved from https://www.boundless.com/education/technology-in-the-classroom/edtech/advantages-of-using-technology-in-the-classroom/. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
DAVIES, P., Ben, B., & Batbold, D. (2014). Getting to the root of STEM. Fedgazette, 1-8.
Honeycutt, T. (8 October 2013). TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM: THE BENEFITS OF BLENDED LEARNING. NATIONAL MATH + SCIENCE INITIATIVE BLOG. Retrieved from http://www.nms.org/Blog/TabId/58/PostId/188/technology-in-the-classroom-the-benefits-of-blended-learning.aspx. Retrieved 5 August 2014.