It used to be that you could control how much you wanted your child to use technology, but these days the current trend towards using iPads and laptops at school means that our children are using such gadgets at an earlier age and also in environments other than the home. There are plenty of discussions about the pitfalls of social media but we also need to ask ourselves whether using such devices actually does enhance our children’s learning at all.
Advocates of the move away from textbooks and pen and paper would say that the main advantage is cost. Often textbooks are expensive and become out of date quickly, whereas electronic versions can be updated for a fraction of the cost and this can also be done easily and as often as necessary, saving the school money and time.
Of course, then there is Mr. Google. Everyone can have access to the greatest minds on the planet in a matter of seconds. These days you don’t even have to type the words – simply say “OK Google” and the next words you utter will be converted into a search that scours the Earth for thousands of pages of related content. (This makes me wonder why we need an education system at all!)
Third, student engagement is obviously higher when computers are involved. I was amazed when we took my daughter to the museum the other day and she seemed more interested in the interactive touch-screen summaries than the exhibits themselves.
Just because there are a lot of cost savings from using technology, this doesn’t make it cheap. First of all, you need to have the devices themselves, which have come down a lot in price, but will still cost at least $400 for something decent (that would buy quite a few textbooks..). Then there is the cost of putting the infrastructure in place and keeping it up to date. Bear in mind that most schools have a whole IT department to take care of crashed (sometimes literally) laptops and WiFi bottlenecks. This runs into the many thousands of dollars (think of all the textbooks that could be bought here, probably even with room for some new sporting equipment ..).
Google also has its drawbacks. Just because there is a lot of information out there, this does not mean it is all relevant. Often search results can reach into the millions and even the most diligent student can have trouble sorting through this. Then there is always the temptation to ‘Google’ an answer rather than working it out yourself – something teachers need to factor in to the assignments and projects they set. The problem becomes promoting Google as a tool and not just a solution.
As far as student engagement goes, there is no doubt that kids are less troublesome when there is a screen in front of them, but I have a suspicion that if we collected data on the amount of time spent actually researching versus time spent on Facebook that the latter would account for upwards of 90%.
What does formal research tell us?
It is interesting to note that studies (that I read about online!) have found that students performed better when taking notes with a pen and paper than those who took notes on their computer. Despite this, it seems schools believe that using more technology is the way to go and I don’t think that any of us are naïve enough to believe that any amount of protesting will be enough to halt its march into our education system.
Technology, then, really is a tool that is just as effective as the hands it is put in. Now, more than ever, teachers in our society are burdened with the responsibility of guiding our young people into its effective use. The opportunities that present themselves have the potential to invoke enormous passion from teachers and students alike, but there is also the danger of wasted resources, time and money on a scale like never before.
I think we need to be mindful that today’s gadgets will quickly become tomorrow’s landfill and that just planting a new device in the hands of a youngster does not guarantee a smarter student.
What do you think about this topic? We would love to hear your views.