Sunday, 5 January 2014

Technology in the Classroom: how much is too much?

In recent years there has been a large movement encouraging the integration of technology in the classroom. Let me start off by saying that I am not against technology, I think its an important tool that students need to learn to use to be successful in our rapidly evolving society. It can provide many benefits and new learning strategies (think of voice to text software for students with disabilities such as Dragon). However I do question the way in which we incorporate technology, and at what stage in a student's education it is introduced. With whisperings of Apple's new hybrid desktop tablet in the works there has been talk about how this type of technology would revolutionize the classroom. But I begin to wonder wether we have the best interests of students or the profit of corporations at heart.

Currently, many classrooms use technologies such as SMART boards, iPads, and computer programs and games that help to teach a variety of subjects. I emphasize that these are not inherently bad tools, and they can provide great benefit to a classroom's learning, however I question how and with what frequency these tools are being used. Many classrooms now conduct the majority of their lessons using an interactive board such as a SMART board, this allows teachers to easily show internet resources, videos, and the other tools the boards provide. Unfortunately, with the majority of teaching being done through these boards, there is also an increase in the number of teachers using them to show powerpoint slides and other material as the primary means of communicating notes and information to students. This means that students are spending much of their learning time reading and learning from a computer screen. In addition, there is the increasing popularity in digital textbooks. There have been a number of studies surrounding reading comprehension on paper vs. a computer screen. A recent study "clearly demonstrated that those who had read on computer screens had understood less than those who read on paper". Another in depth study can be found here and I highly recommend it as reading to consider for any teacher.

Reading comprehension and understanding aside, there are further issues such as the distraction that a 'busy' looking screen versus a simple blackboard or whiteboard can cause, as well as eye strain from prolonged screen exposure, and ergonomic concerns for those that look down at a tablet or computer for long periods of time. I feel that rather than being used as the supplementary tool it was originally intended as, technology has come to dominate the learning time in many classrooms. If we feel we can cram in more material through power points, apps, and computer programs, with the bonus of less prep time- where is the space for kinaesthetic learning, group activities, visual creation, and hands on interactive learning. Especially in the elementary classroom, where this type of learning is so vital for student development.

It is my belief that we should take a page out of the Waldorf education handbook. In this system, students are often only introduced to computers at the high school level. While I believe this is a bit too late to be introducing these skills, I see no reason why we cannot wait until grades 5 or 6 to begin to really emphasize computer skills such as typing and research, and to limit in-class screen exposure before this. We must remember that technology is a tool, it will always have a beneficial place within our classrooms, but we must come back to the question of how and when we choose to use it for the best possible influence on student learning.

What do you think? How do you use technology within your classroom?
Let me know in the comments below or send me an email at

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