Are Schools Getting Too Carried Away with Technology?

When my grandmother died in 1978 at almost 90, I thought the technological changes she had experienced in her lifetime would never be duplicated. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Technology is now changing at a dizzying pace, and parents and educators have to decide what’s best for our children. It’s a difficult conundrum with dueling points of view.

On one hand, most schools have embraced technology, spending huge amounts of money on upgrading electronic equipment that soon becomes obsolete. First it was the installation of computer labs, then the purchase of laptops, followed by i-Pads. I admit I drooled when Smart Boards were installed in a district in which I was working as a central office administrator. I secretly wished I could be a high school social studies teacher again, and with the touch of a finger take my students to sites that would propel great class discussions.

But technology should be taken just so far. What is the wisdom of turning cell phones into teaching tools in the classroom? Newsday reports that an Amityville social studies teacher recently asked his 11th graders to use their personal cell phones to text a response to a poll about a presidential speech they had just watched in the classroom. According to the article, this is part of a growing local and national trend.

Many other school districts, however, still bar students from bringing their cell phones and smart phones to school – and for good reason. They have been viewed as a distraction, even a dangerous one. Do we really want students checking their e-mail and texting during class? Do we want them using it to make dates during class, surf their favorite sites on the Web, cheat, or even engage in drug dealing? As much as schools will try to restrict its use in school, some students won’t be able to control themselves.

Even if you argue that most kids won’t engage in such nefarious behavior, whatever happened to raising your hand and having a discussion? Do our children have to be tethered to machines 24/7?

Apparently, some people in the computer industry don’t think so. A recent article in the New York Times pointed out that some of Silicon Valley’s technology leaders send their children to schools without computers! They think it’s easy enough to pick up computer skills, and that what’s really important is great teaching that actively engages kids in learning. Engagement is really the issue. Does technology foster engagement or inhibit it?

In addition, public schools have to consider the cost. Computers in education are here to stay but they need to be used judiciously — always with the goal of fostering student engagement and enabling critical and creative thinking.

If cell phones are now becoming the teaching tool du jour, then what do public schools do with the millions of dollars in computer equipment they bought? With built-in obsolescence, it’s critically important that schools don’t spend mindlessly on the latest cool gadget, only to abandon it for a better one a few years later.

Who is watching the technology store in our public school districts? Every year, superintendents and chief technology officers present a computer budget to the board of education and the public. As we go forward in this difficult economy, there needs to be accountability, research, evidence, and a rationale for future spending on electronic devices. Most of all, schools require a clear vision for how they plan on engaging students in learning – both with and without computers.

3 Comments on “Are Schools Getting Too Carried Away with Technology?”

  1. learningbuzz says:

    The key to using technology in schools is teacher preparation. If teachers know how to use technology effectively, there won’t be any question about whether it’s worth its cost or not. We always look at reform in the education system starting at school administration and policy makers. Or we always think about the so-called “distractions” in the classroom. And these are all important. But what’s more important (thank you, Silicon Valley technology leaders) is teaching. If the teacher isn’t prepared to use these tools, no budget or decision will make a difference. Have teachers actually thought that students may be secretly texting under their desks because the lessons are not engaging enough? I mean, if you are watching a boring movie in the movie theatre and you have your phone in your pocket, wouldn’t you feel tempted to take it out, despite the warning to put it away at the beginning of the movie, and check your email? Same thing happens in the classroom.

    And yes, you are right. Technology in schools is here to stay. And the constant urge to update and upgrade is also here to stay. What needs to change is our attitude towards it. We are always scared of the advancement of technology because education can’t keep up. That’s the most common attitude in schools. Has anyone thought that in education we actually don’t have to keep up? All we need to do is enable our students to explore the ever changing technologies. Even high-tech companies aren’t able to keep up with all the tech innovations. One reason: they don’t need to. So the anxiety that policy makers instil in schools over not being to keep up… is irrelevant. What they should be saying is: “Hey, this is normal. We’re not here to spend tons of money or resources on keeping up… we are here to spend money on professional development for teachers who will go and find new technologies to use in their classrooms.” It should be a teacher-driven decision. Hardware is becoming less and less expensive. Web 2.0 and open source tools are free. You don’t need a lot to be able to put together great projects with your students. You just need to be creative. And when you give teachers that opportunity to decide and choose for their own teaching, then the anxiety disappears. Now they feel in control, rather than following some policy written by someone sitting in an office.

    That’s why when purchasing technology or making decisions on technology, policy makers should entirely rely on teachers. They are the ones who know best what they need in their own classrooms with their own students. Not the office-bound policy-maker.

  2. uksuperiorpapers says:

    As always it is the teacher and parents who should make education relevant to students. Technology should become an inclusive tool. Where alll are able to have access to hardware and applications.On the one hand I think that using technology is not learning – just as using a remote control does not teach you about television. You are the slaves to the technology; not the technologist.

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