Lets Debate! Does Technology in the Classroom Actually Enhance Student Learning?

Technology has arguably changed the classroom and the way students learn more than any other factor over the last 100 years. Students and teachers alike often think of that incorporating technology is simply pulling out a laptop or tablet to assist in research. It is (or can be) so much more than that.

Technology is at the core of how we display information to our students, communicate with families, share our students work and grades, photocopy material, and become engaged with the world outside of our classroom. A high majority of teachers use technology to plan or research their own content, or connect with colleagues in a way that will benefit their students. Megan and Brittney reminded me that not only is technology important in the classroom, but it’s critical to our lives outside of school. They discussed how important it is for the workforce to be technology literate, and how incorporating technology into our classrooms can prepare students to be more successful after graduation, as technology skills are now nearly an expectation within many job areas.

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One of the most impactful uses of technology that I’ve noticed as a teacher of high school elective classes, is the shifting of ideals in terms of what the teacher should be. I often instruct my Drafting and Design classes, that I am not an expert in this field. The online world is adding more knowledge every day than I could ever expect to learn in a lifetime. No longer am I the ‘expert at the front of the room’ that my teachers were. Shifting my role to become more of a facilitator of student learning has become a great encouragement to me. While I am happy to ‘lead the students down the path,’ I am constantly amazed at where they will take their projects when they are given the creativity to expand beyond my direction. Katherine McKnight (2015), along with her team, underwent a very interesting study, examining how educators use technology to improve student learning. Her results were like what I’ve described above. She writes

“perhaps the most profound change reported by the teachers…was the potential that technology provided for shifting the traditional roles of teachers and students both within and outside the classroom. Because technology enabled student access to multiple resources and perspectives, as well as levels of inquiry not otherwise available, it was possible to decrease the reliance on the teacher to provide answers and content to the class and shift the role toward guiding students to manage their own learning.”

Katherine McKnight, et.al, (2016) Teaching in a Digital Age: How Educators Use Technology to Improve Student Learning, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 48:3, 194-211, DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2016.1175856

Technology is great tool, but this wasn’t the debate topic. Asking yourself if technology enhances learning is a completely different question where the waters are much less clear.  Proponents against the use of technology in the classroom often point to distractions, which can be evidenced in literature. In Bernard R. McCoy’s study Digital Distractions in the Classroom (2016,) the authors referenced Purcel, et al.’s 2012 study, describing that “87% of respondents (teachers,) believed digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans,” and 64% said digital technologies did “more to distract students  than to help them academically.”

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During their debate, Nicole and Darryl, also commented on the shallow learning that technology can foster. Virtual connections often don’t have the same impact as face to face interactions, and taking notes or completing work on laptops often show a shallow cognitive response.

Another interesting point is debating why we haven’t saw greater leaps in academic achievement during the technological age. More students than ever are connected, but is that connectedness showing improvement in outcome attainment? Are students better learners now than they were 50 years ago? Regardless of your answer, is technology the key component causing it?

To summarize, I firmly believe that great teachers will remain great, with or without technology. Many of the largest facets of teaching revolve around relationship building and connecting with students. These areas are one part of the job that is arguably the least influenced by technology. That being said, I also believe that technology has the potential to improve efficiency, and engagement for teachers, when lessons are designed in a way that allows students to use technology as a beneficial tool to increase understanding, not simply as an alternate way to gain the same information/complete the same task. The SAMR model does a wonderful job explaining the different levels in which technology can be incorporated into the classroom.

Finally, I believe teacher’s have a responsibility to teach responsible use of technology within their classrooms. Technology is here to stay, and as with many other skills that may not be in the forefront of the curriculum, teaching about responsible use and digital citizenship. These are not new ideals- see the video below published in May of 2013 from the University of Lethbridge.

One of the most interesting themes of the video also came up during our debate. We can not assume that students are experts in technology. As with any skill, students may be exposed to technology constantly, but without being taught about acceptable and responsible use, we cannot expect them to experts.

As with most things, I find balance is key. Technology will forever be a useful tool for students and teachers, but teaching of acceptable and responsible use will become even more important as our society progresses.

2 thoughts on “Lets Debate! Does Technology in the Classroom Actually Enhance Student Learning?

  1. Very thorough post Colton! I love your statement about teachers remaining great with our without technology. As someone who works for Regina Public, this hacking has definitely show me how much I rely on technology in regards to my day to day teaching. The lack of access to many things has been a tough curveball to balance on top of everything else. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t overwhelming! However, it has also show that what you said is true- teachers across our district are working hard and teaching in great ways even without access to WIFI, printers and email.

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  2. Great post, Colton! I really like how you talked about your own experiences in the classroom and how you think technology should be used in the classroom. I also like how you said that the topic of the debate wasn’t about if technology should be in the classroom, but if technology does in fact enhance learning. Obviously, like you said, technology is here to stay and we need to teach our kiddos how to be good digital citizens.

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