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Ask Dr. Lynch: Does Classroom Technology Make a Difference?

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Winter G. asks:

I have been an educator for 12 years, and I have always made it a point to use technology in my classroom as a supplement. However, our new principal is championing technology as a cure-all, and is expecting her recent upgrades in the school’s technological capabilities to pay big dividends. Personally, I think she is setting herself up for failure. I believe that technology does improve student learning, but is it really as important as my principal thinks?

ANSWER:

Winter, the general consensus seems to be that in order to give K-12 students a fighting chance in the real world, teachers and administrators must stay on top of any and all technology trends. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2009 that 97 percent of K-12 teachers had computers in their classrooms every day. In addition, 54 percent were able to bring a computer into the classroom. The overall ratio of students to classroom computers was 5.3 to 1.

Well, that was then, and this is now. Since 2009, teachers have made the shift to include mobile devices like tablets and Smartphones as part of the classroom culture. Computers are still there, but are quickly playing second fiddle to smaller, faster and just-plain-cooler pieces of technology. While the inclusion of cutting-edge technology certainly grabs the attention of students, does it actually make a difference in academic success? Does technology really provide more opportunities?

The problem with answering these questions is that not enough time has passed since Internet-based learning has stormed K-12 classrooms. At a technology summit in early 2012, Troy Williams of Macmillan New Ventures told a packed conference room that companies like his do not “have the outcomes yet to say what leads to a true learning moment.” He added that it would still be another three to five years before those numbers can truly be analyzed. Matthew Pittinsky, a co-founder of the popular Blackboard software, agreed with Williams, saying that “these are really early days” when it comes to truly integrated technology intended to improve student success in K-12 and higher education settings.

In its widest definition, though, technology has always been associated with the creation of a level playing field for students. Bernard John Poole of the University of Pittsburgh wrote ten pillars of technology integration in K-12 schools, and his final point reads: Recognize that technology is for all, and involves all, in the process of lifelong learning. Poole talks about the way in which teachers must receive ongoing training, and parents must be equally involved, in order to promote student achievement through technological advances. While his points sound good on paper, it leads one to wonder if he truly believes that technology is a necessity for learning, or if it is only a means of capturing an ever-waning student-body attention span.

At the public school level, all students have equal access to classroom computers and mobile devices. Even if these youngsters have no electronic access at home, upon entering a classroom they are able to interact with technology and keep up with their peers. That is all well and good – but does it matter? If all public K-12 classrooms got rid of computers and banned Internet-based learning, would it negatively impact academic success through the college years? Would it affect graduation rates? Would American kids fall behind the rest of the world?

I think that truly depends on how you look at it. Does the technology itself provide heightened learning experiences? I’d argue that it does not. Instead, the implementation of the technology is a necessary move to keep students interested in the subject matter. I am not saying I’m against rapid adjustment to cutting-edge technology in learning and practice; I think there is no way to avoid embracing it and still turn out high numbers of world-ready graduates. I just think that there is a danger in relying on the technology to convey learning materials in a vacuum. Look at how much technology has changed since the 2009 report I referenced above. Does this mean that students growing up in public schools in 2013 will be better prepared for life? What about the students of 2017, and so on?

Like many issues in K-12 education, there seem to be more questions than answers. I’d caution all of us in education not to put too much stock in technology. It is one way to improve student learning, but certainly not the only way.

 

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.

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