Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Critical learning tool, or flashy extra?

This article was originally written for our school’s Imprint magazine, and is reprinted with permission.

The role of technology in education is a fairly contentious issue these days in most schools. There are those that believe that technology is a necessary add-on to the classroom; that teachers and students both need to keep up to date on the most current technologies so that students have marketable skills when they leave school. Others believe that technology should be kept strictly out of schools; that the old ways we learned in schools were “fine for us” and so should be fine for our students as well. There is yet another group that believes that educators and students should use the best tools available as part of their learning; and that in some cases, this means some sort of technology.

I personally tend to subscribe to the third point of view. I’m not a fan of just using technology because it helps prepare students. I think that we need to have a deeper reason to implement technology given the cost and time investment necessary to make any technology use worthwhile. I also think that our role is not necessarily to prepare students for jobs, but to prepare them for life, which takes more than simply knowing how to use a spreadsheet, or create a presentation.

There is a danger that we use technology simply because it is “flashier” than what we used to do. People who suggest that the primary reason to use technology is because it will “engage” the learner are I think missing the point of engagement. Real engagement comes from exposure to meaningful, relevant, and interesting ideas. Using ‘flashy’ technology is not engaging students, it is merely attracting their attention, much like light attracts a moth. The flashiness attracts the student’s attention, but once the novelty wears off, the attention is quickly lost. Engagement, on the other hand, is self-sustaining.

However, some technology allows us to learn about areas which would have been previously impossible, or impractical, without the technology. For example, being able to Skype chat to another classroom, or to a topic expert, opens a digital portal between two places. Skype technology allows for a type of communication previously impossible without the technology; real time ‘face to face’ conversations over tremendous distances.

This is part of the reason that our interactive white boards have seen limited use, and that our new Flip cameras have been booked out nearly every single day. The interactive white boards require a significant investment in time from teachers, and tend to promote a teacher-centred classroom with inexperienced use. The Flip cameras, on the other hand, allow students and teachers to do something not possible without their use. Students can now record, edit, and then examine videos they have created themselves.

In order to see a return on our investment in the interactive whiteboards, we are sending a few teachers who have volunteered to give up part of their summer to learn about how to use these devices effectively. In turn, they will share their new-found expertise with our staff, and we will be able to turn this “flashy” technology into something productive.

The most obvious piece of technology that we have introduced this year has been our one-to-one laptop program. While in some schools this would been implemented so that students could do research, write essays, and read textbooks, we have already been using the laptops for so much more. Students have been creating and editing multimedia, designing schools of the future in 3D, and using interactive geometry programs, for example, all of which have enhanced the students’ learning.

We will continue to focus on using technologies that are critical learning tools, rather than flashy add-ons. Your children deserve nothing less.