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Does technology make traditional education better or worse?

Zara Curtis
Grade 9 student, East Campus

Zara Curtis is a Grade 9 student on East Campus

Does technology make traditional education better or worse?

A Global Perspectives essay

Today, six billion people have access to mobile phones worldwide (Wang). To put that into perspective, only four and a half billion people have access to working toilets (Wang). While that statistic is shocking, it is understandable when considering that the new coming of the digital age is changing what we value as a necessity. With the new age comes even greater changes and challenges. One industry facing this complex dilemma is the educational industry. As Zoe Bernard of Business Insider said, “ New technologies like AI, machine learning, and educational software aren’t just changing the field for students, they’re shaking up the role of educators.”(Bernard). 

In the UK in 2014, 70% of schools, both secondary and primary, used tablets and computers in school to some extent (Coughlan). In 9% of schools, there was an individual device for every student (Coughlan). Many large scale companies are catching on to the digital age of education and are creating programmes tailored for schools and a classroom environment.

Sites like ‘share my lesson’ allow teachers to share and view lesson plans for free. Others like ‘Quizlet’ are for students to share flashcards for countless different subjects, units and even languages. They offer a ‘live’ version as well where teachers can provide live tests to get immediate feedback on how well the content of that lesson was received. There is no doubt the digital age has impacted the classroom and it’s dynamic, and this change has been observed by many. However, it is being tackled at several different angles by several different organisations and communities worldwide. Many like Jervey Tervalon believe digitising our classrooms and schools will be severely harmful to the future of education, yet many,  like Patricia Friedman and Tõnis Kusmin, believe that harnessing the power of technology would be extremely beneficial.

Issue

The main issue I will be exploring regarding this topic is student productivity in correlation with the introduction of digital devices and the impact it has on education.

Local Perspective

One sceptic of digitising classrooms and schools is Jervey Tervalon. He wrote an article titled ‘Why we need to keep Ipads out of the classroom’ (Tervalon) for the publisher Time. He states that he finds it ‘mystifying’ (Tervalon) that with limited funding in Los Angeles for education, the LAUSD (Los Angeles unified school district) invested copious amounts of money into Ipads and Pearson educational tools only to find that they did not work the way they were intended to (Tervalon). He states that teachers were not equipped to handle the digital change and believes that those in charge saw an Ipad as a tool that would take over the role of teachers (Tervalon).

Tervalon does not deny the fact that Ipads are an amazing device however hilites that Ipads need to be paired with purpose and the right content and context (Tervalon). He stresses that the introduction of technology does not mean students will be engaged in the lesson, instead, the teacher and environment will have a lasting impact on what is retained from the class. He references low income and minority neighbourhoods where 98% of students graduate and attend 4-year college and universities (Tervalon). This was possible without technology in the classroom and instead was the result of hard work and support from schools. In fact, according to Psychology Today, there is no evidence that Ipads have had any impact on learning and instead seems to be a distraction to students (Greenfield).  In an article published by Canadian news site ‘the globe and mail’, they surveyed 6,000 students and found that 99% of students thought Ipads in the classroom are ‘distracting’ and one third admitted to playing games and going off task in class (Oliveira).

Whilst those numbers are staggering, Michael Oliveria is a well-known reporter who has written countless articles for several different Canadian news sites that are widely considered to be credible. Some of those organisations include The Canadian Press, Canada’s National Observer and The Globe and Mail. The survey also included a large number of students therefore the data is more accurate. Staying on task is not just a productivity issue for children, as out of 9 colleges, students reported checking their phones 11 times (Harvard).

In another study of 269 college students, 92% admitted to texting in class and 5% to texting in an exam, so it is clear that students are not being the most productive they can be. This supports Tervalon’s perspective as he believes that it is not the right time to be implementing devices in classrooms as technology is fairly new to educators who cannot handle having it in the classroom.

Global Perspective

However, there are some who are supportive of digitising our classrooms. One of which is Entrepreneur Tõnis Kusmin who is currently working on digitising classrooms worldwide. His website, Tebo, works on incorporating digital devices into the classroom to further engage students and manage classroom tasks. These include arranging and sharing lesson plans for teachers, assisting in assessments so they require less time and organising teaching materials, and links and games so they are all easy to find.

Tebo is used by over 10,000 teachers, nearly 50,000 students and over 2,800 schools (Tebo). Tebo’s ‘Teacher board’ allows teachers to have direct access to learning materials and share them with students. They can also set tasks and reminders for their class, who can interact with the teacher’s comments in and out of class. This allows for productivity in class to not stop when the students go home, instead, they can continue to be productive at home with guidance from the Tebo platform. It’s founder, Kusmin, has been quoted saying “The future of education does not happen on paper anymore, it happens on smart devices.”(Virki). Kusmin’s initiative aims to digitise as many classrooms as possible with his website.

The idea behind his Website is not to remove the teacher, instead equip teachers with the ability to give 30 children a 1-on-1 lesson to ensure the most is coming from the lesson (Virki). His platform was also incredibly useful for students who have difficulties working whilst seated and needed to be active to remain engaged in class. The portable nature of an Ipad allowed students the freedom to choose how they attended the lesson. Teachers say having Ipads allowed teachers to find a way to communicate with students who have difficulties expressing themselves (Williams).

This is a contrast to what Tervalon believes as Kusmin is finding ways to elevate the classroom with technology and believes it is beneficial for teachers and technology to work together to elevate the classroom. Unlike Tervalon, he is optimistic that the benefits of technology can be harnessed by teachers, and he may have a point. In an article written by the Washington Post teachers of special needs students say they found that the Ipads in class were incredibly useful for supporting the student’s needs (Williams) .

Local Perspective

The final perspective I will be exploring is that of Digital Literacy coach Patricia Friedman. Friedman works at the United World College where for youth aged 11 to 18, there is a one to one device per student. For younger students, each child has their own device however it is not theirs to bring home and keep. Coming into the age of the digital classroom, Friedman believed the ‘traditional classroom’ could be elevated. She says the addition of devices in the classroom allowed for there to be 20 of her teaching a class. This meant that students had the opportunity to work at their own pace. That is not to say she does not use the traditional paper and pen in class, however she intentionally integrates technology when she feels it works best.

Friedman stated that there is a belief that teenagers are unable to manage having a device, however, she rebuts stating how it is not possible nor realistic to expect that the whole class should be engaged at all times. She says that whether students find classes engaging and interesting is completely dependent on the individual and there are many instances of classes with and without technology where students have ‘checked out’ or been uninterested. She explains that she is not in support of digitising classrooms with the newest fanciest gadgets just because it ‘sounds cool’, instead there should be detailed and methodical thinking behind the choice, and there are many organisations that make that process easier for schools.

One such organisation is Eduspec who offer several courses of action around education. The wide range allows schools to choose what to implement according to their needs. They offer a very wide range of  educational tools that can be implemented in the classroom. These programmes are designed to keep students engaged and eager to learn. The programmes they offer carefully crafted to elevate the classroom. One such program they offer is DSS 3.0 (Digital Schools Solution 3.0) which comprises of 12 different helpful tools for teachers (eduspec). Some of those tools include interactive lesson plans and grading systems ,interactive whiteboards, one to one computers and a service for parents that they can access via a mobile app (eduspec).

These are not implemented out of the blue as the DSS includes a teacher training system (eduspec). This allows for maximum productivity for students as their classroom is completely designed to cater to their needs. Friedman utilises Technology to engage her class and prepare them for the digital world that we cannot avoid. Her beliefs align with Kusmin where they both believe that technology can be harnessed as a tool make the classroom more efficient and whilst Friedman would agree with Tervalon that there needs to be a clear action plan and purpose behind the technology we introduce in classrooms, she is far more optimistic that the outcome would mean a more conducive, productive classroom.

I personally believe technology should be implemented in classrooms. We cannot deny that incorporating technology in class is essential for preparing students for what is likely to be a highly digital workplace. I also do not believe there will ever be a classroom that can successfully eliminate all distractions as it does not consider the human aspect of a classroom. It is unrealistic that every student will always be in the right headspace to be engaged, or find every class interesting. Students who are prepared to learn and engage will only benefit from technology as there will be an endless amount of resources that allow for a more interactive and conducive classroom.

Consider the case of online quizzes; this tool allows for students to get feedback on their learning at a much faster rate. For example, if a student took an online test, it can get graded and corrected within the lesson so they can analyse their mistakes and improve before the next class. In a more traditional classroom, the teacher would have had to assess everyone’s individually and hand them back far later, which would only prolong the process of learning. Furthermore, traditional pen to paper classes are not conducive for group activities or tasks either, as once students have left the classroom, they are unable to work on tasks together easily.

Through researching these different perspectives, though there is a clear argument for both sides of the issue, looking at the evidence I have presented, it is clear that learning and education in classrooms for students is better served by the use of technology. Whilst going off task may be a cause for concern, there is no way for every student to find every class engaging and setting that as a goal is unrealistic. According to the BBC, in a study conducted with over 2,200 participants, people spend almost half of their waking hours daydreaming (BBC). Having a group of young people, who would already be prone to a wandering mind, sitting in a classroom for a prolonged period of time is a tall order, therefore i think introducing technology to find a new way to engage them will mean they will be more productive and collaborative with one another.

Bibliography:

Andrews, Evan. “Who Invented the Internet?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 18 Dec. 2013

BBC “People Spend ‘Half Their Waking Hours Daydreaming’.” BBC News, BBC, 12 Nov. 2010

Bernard, Zoë. “Here’s How Technology Is Shaping the Future of Education.” Business Insider Singapore, Business Insider , 28 Dec. 2017

Coughlan, Sean. “Tablet Computers in ‘70% of Schools’.” BBC News, BBC, 3 Dec. 2014

Eduspec. Digital School Solution (DSS)

Greenfield, Susan. “Five Reasons IPads Should NOT Be In Classrooms.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 1 Oct. 2015

Harris, William. “Who Invented the Computer?” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 12 Mar. 2019, science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/inventions/who-invented-the-computer.htm.

Oliveira, Michael. “A Third of Students Using ‘Distracting’ Classroom IPads for Play, Not Work: Study.” The Globe and Mail, 12 May 2018

Tebo.me. “Tebo.me – Make Learning More Awesome!” Õpiveeb

Tervalon, Jervey. “Education: Why We Need to Keep IPads Out of Schools and Classrooms.” Time, Time, 18 June 2015

Virki, Tamo. “The Network: Digitising Classrooms around the World.” CoFounder, 1 June 2017

Wang, Yue. “More People Have Cell Phones Than Toilets, U.N. Study Shows.” Time, Time, 25 Mar. 2013 

Williams, Mari-Jane. “IPads Especially Helpful for Special-Needs Students.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Apr. 2012

19 Jun 2019
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