Introduction of any new tool into academia is a matter of great interest among educators, students and parents. This is particularly evident when the tool is technology and the domain of academia is the school. The drive to develop technology-assisted classrooms has been driven by the goal of providing easy access to information coupled with the need to prepare children for a tech-intensive future.
The introduction of technology into the classroom eventually hinges on the skills, attitudes and belief systems of the facilitator, the teacher. Teachers already shoulder tremendous responsibilities; they have to be impartial and objective judges of students, with insights into their needs and progress in addition to understanding expectations from parents and following the norms and rules that govern them. Thus, the equation of education is already intricate, and the addition of a new variable - technology - into this equation, not only complicates it further but raises many questions and doubts. Understandably, no academic advancement in the history of humankind has ever elicited as much controversy as the use of technology in the classroom and both sides of the debate have legitimate points of view. There are teachers who swear by technology, and there are those that must be dragged kicking and screaming into a tech- enabled classroom. Most teachers however fall in the intermediate region where they are still testing the waters as seen from their responses following the issue of laptops to all students and teachers by the government of Maine.
The “to tech or not to tech” controversy is fueled by conflicting reports. The research at the University of Southern Maine, found that math performance of seventh- and eighth-graders taught by teachers trained in using the laptops improved significantly. In another survey by the Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP), most teachers reported that digital technologies helped them in teaching middle school and high school students but the distractions of the internet, mobile phones, and social media were challenges to deal with. In contrast, another review by the Education Department in 2009 on online courses offered to millions of K-12 students found that there is “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.
The aye-sayers visualize a classroom where the teacher is a guide rather than the dispenser of information, who nudges the students into the path of self-paced learning through Internet-connected devices. The detractors are apprehensive mostly because of the need for time and resources to train, or doubts in their ability to master available technology. A 2010 survey by Grunwald Associates shows that despite more and more new teachers entering academia with far more advanced technology skills than senior teachers who have been in the field from much before the tech boom, only 39 percent of teachers report "moderate" or "frequent" use of technology as an instructional tool. The disparity in tech use in schools is also related to the financial stratum to which the school belongs; 70% of teachers working in high income areas found schools good in providing them with resources and support needed to incorporate digital tools in the classroom, compared to only 50% of teachers working in the lowest income areas as reported by the Pew Internet Research Project.
With the digital revolution spreading its wings into all aspects of society, its inroads into academia is unavoidable.It is therefore essential that teachers be prepared both mentally and skill-wise in the use of technology in the classroom. In order to be tech-savvy, a teacher must first be aware of the fine line between the use and abuse of technology; For instance, asking “why?” is the first step towards becoming an efficient tech-enabled teacher. Flexibility to new knowledge and skill, willingness to change, an open mind set, enthusiasm and genuine concern are traits that follow the first “why”.
For a teacher to ease into technology-powered education, it is important for her to understand that technology can create an equitable and efficient system that supports both teaching and learning. It is also a universal language transcending geographic, cultural and professional barriers. Technology enhanced learning can accommodate the diverse learning styles of students and enable them to work in ways that are not possible in conventional classroom instruction, e.g. flexible learning, personalized pacing etc. Technology can improve educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning because of absence of time boundaries and can thus utilize teacher time better.
Beyond direct classroom applications, technology can help the teacher communicate with students and parents on a continuous basis, and this in turn creates a teacher-student-parent triad partnership that can further academic causes. Committed teachers can, through newsletters, announcements, virtual tests and assignments, calendars, discussions and tips extend learning beyond the classroom. Most of all, the introduction of technology into the classroom is a collective learning process; often the teacher becomes the learner and this can create better bonds within the classroom. Learning is fun at all ages, and showing students that the teacher is willing and excited to learn can do wonders to the child’s attitude towards education.
The use of technology in the classroom is not without its pitfalls; distraction and safety are issues that the teacher must be aware of and know how to handle. Teachers are responsible for maintaining a safe environment in their classroom and with the introduction of technology, safety goes beyond the four walls. Possible risks include exposure of students to objectionable and inappropriate material, cyberbullying and harassment. The teacher must be aware of possible security breaches and must be trained in ensuring safety of the students in classroom. Technology-induced distraction can be overcome by integrating the Internet with instruction, careful planning of the day’s lessons and a certain amount of monitoring. It is important for both teacher and student to know that technology is merely a tool to teach the curriculum and cannot replace the curriculum itself.
There are various types of technology that cater to individuals and groups, and synchronous and asynchronous educational activities that can be combined in the classroom as the teacher sees fit. Development of technology for the classroom must take into account teacher needs and is best when there is input from the teacher during development. While the teacher’s primary goal is indeed to teach the curriculum and not the technology, a complete disconnect between technology development and teacher use cannot serve any purpose.
The use of technology in the classroom can be a liberating experience for both teacher and student. In a tech-enabled classroom, the teacher becomes the coordinator, or even partner, in learning rather than the traditional “foster helicopter parent”. Such a shift in teaching style can indeed move the focus from the teacher to the student and expand learning from its traditional confines.
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