Why Technology is a Vital Part of the Future of Education

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Children use an iPad at kindergarten. Source: Kathy Cassidy/Flickr

Technology in School

When you were at school, did you learn from a blackboard, whiteboard, an interactive whiteboard, or an iPad? Technology may evolve, but so does education, and I feel, they go hand in hand. As a student, I have followed the way children learn, from my first day in the September of the new millenium. Everyone was fretting over ‘the millenium bug‘, and my school had one or two computers, mainly used for administration. I look at schools around the world now, and see six year olds learning from a tablet, and I smile at what 10 years of technological change has done to education.

That said, the thought of going to my local library saddens me. Not because it’s a hassle to walk down the road in a light drizzle, but because they are dying. What once was a dependable, vital source of knowledge now is almost non-existant. With the rise of the internet, they also seem to be at the very least of local councils funding priorities. Earlier this year, there was talk of 50% cuts to the library budget in Doncaster, as one of hundreds of towns and cities faced by library closures, all because of technology [1]. Technology is not a bad thing, but the wider significance of its effects are ruining our heritage. Its hard to learn from a book, when you sit in front of a smartphone, seemingly calling you to make use of its super fast connection to the world’s bank of knowledge.

A One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) laptop/ OLPC is a non-proit which aims to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop.

Whilst research is vitally important when learning, what happens in the classroom matters most. Not only can students interact with teachers in different ways, but they can take new notes, or even record a lecture. Different schools, different regions and states all have different policies, yet, at least in more developed countries such as the US and the UK, very few ban the use of technology. I will use my place of education as an example. I appreciate it as moving forward well with the times. As more and more teachers began to use tablets and/or their own laptops, wi-fi became available to students, and the upper years have the permission to type, or record notes primarily on their smartphone, tablet or computer. Computers are in every room, many upgraded to the latest iterations of their operating system, and the creative departments, unsurprisingly have invested in Apple Macs, to produce high standards of design or composition work. On top of this, the use of Google Docs to share work, has become an integral part of Simon Balle School. Teachers can read shared work, and mark it from their home, giving me, and other students instant feedback. This has not just proved helpful, but has enhanced the way I revise, over weekends and holidays especially, when not in direct contact with teachers. To share links, social media, such as twitter has even been used. The school have invested increasing amounts of money in this, and is almost definitely ahead of other schools and establishments in the area, but cowers behind the innovative, and daring.

During 2010, Californian schools began teaching using Fuse, an algebra app, designed to enhance the learning experience [2]. I, personally struggle to see how this didn’t severely sacrifice student-teacher interaction. The pilot scheme, which ran between Mid 2010, to 2011 compared 400 students who were using the iPad to learn, with students using a more conventional text book. An eighth grade teacher, Jeannette Mitchell confirmed in an interview that she noticed grades did increase during the study, although “It wasn’t the magic wand that was going to do everything for them,” and added: “They still had to think”. As the students were learning math, Ms Mitchell did reveal that she felt that “a pen and pencil [are] still necessary” to learn and teach the subject [3]. This, to me, is a fantastic example of a success, and is ultimate proof that technology does help, no matter how skeptic you are.

Another success story, is in teaching for special needs students. As computers are so accessible, and many easy to use, students with all types of learning difficulties can be suited to learning with touch-screens, or through speech and sound. In an Elementary School, once again in California, students who struggle to speak are being encouraged to learn with Apple’s iPad. I document an example interaction below, specified in Marinjii.com:

Mason [McClellan], 6, has difficulty putting his thoughts into words that others can understand…

That’s where his tablet comes in handy. Mason searches the screen of his iPad for the picture he’s looking for — an image of one stick figure gesturing toward another. He presses down on the image.

“I want,” the iPad says.

“What do you want?” asks Kate Mansour, Mason’s teacher at San Rafael’s Venetia Valley Elementary School.

Mason pauses, unable to find the right picture. He begins to type: “c-o-m-p-u-…”

“You want to use the computer?” Mansour asks, and Mason nods. “What would you like to do with the computer?”[4].

I of course have to question whether sitting in front of a monitor all day is really going to benefit education. I am not at all a technology sceptic, and I am always the first to embrace the latest innovations, yet I still have much concern. Firstly, computers are most definitely a distraction. During the writing of this article, I have checked Twitter multiple times, and replied to Facebook messages. Not because I don’t enjoy writing this article, but because social media, and the world’s news is at my fingertips, and is overloading me. It is not hard to imagine young children quitting apps and ending up playing Angry Birds. Furthermore, looking at a screen all day is not good for one’s eyes. It is strenuous and tiring. I struggle to read more than 10 pages of a book on a screen, and I struggle to get to sleep at night if I don’t take a break from my computer beforehand. Especially for younger children, I would not be at all surprised at parents concern over their children’s usage of electronics; many will go straight home to a games console, or to TV.

Times are changing, and the way future generations will learn is becoming ever more apparent, with the birth of new technologies, ideas and innovation. Whether it is my school, a state school near London, or groundbreaking, modern schools around the world, the use of technology is growing so rapidly, it is hard to keep track of. I remember my excitement when my primary school first bought an interactive white board. I would love drawing on it, and had so much fun trying to reach across fellow classmates as we all attempted to match words and pictures, or whatever task the teacher had set us. This continues to happen, as electronic textbooks, laptops and of course tablets are introduced to students, whether they be youngsters first learning their alphabet, university undergrads recording their lecturer, special needs children finding a means to communicate, or just adults who want to learn something new. It is the right time to really start thinking about the way younger generations learn, and enhancing it.

Apple posted this video of their hit product. I admit it is simply marketing hype but it demonstrates what technology is capable of doing.

[1] bbc.co.uk
[2] hmheducation.com
[3] mindshift.kqed.org
[4] marinij.com