Q: Given your recent writing about Apple’s educational goals, what do teachers think about the proliferation of technology in the classroom?
What is the role of technology in the world of education? This question has been a hot topic ever since 1870, when the first “Magic Lantern” made its debut in a Chicago classroom. The predecessor to the slide machine, the Magic Lantern could accomplish some astounding feats, including projecting images that had been printed on glass plates. Ever since then, technological advances in schools have skyrocketed, and now you are hard-pressed to find a classroom where a computer sits silently in the back, blinking its multi-colored screensaver amongst the hum and chatter of everyday classroom life.
Today, the idea of education without technology seems like an oxymoron; the two ideas have become so interconnected that one without the other seems comparable to having a chalkboard without chalk.
As technology continues to flourish throughout our public and private schools in the United States, the general response appears to be much cheery excitement and welcome. But it’s important to step back and wonder: just what are the benefits of technology in the classroom? And what are the setbacks?
As a teacher in the Denver Public School system, I have not been a stranger to the ever-expanding technological opportunities given to our district, and more specifically, to my school. I have attended countless professional development sessions and have been personally taught by more experienced faculty on how to maximize the power of technology in my classroom.
These technologies include the simple, such as how to use an overhead projector properly. But they also encompass the many thousands of tasks that can be done by my Promethean Board—a massive white projector operated by a touch pen and a laptop computer, given on loan to me from the district. These technologies promise the academic and social enrichment of my students in a world where life is indeed dominated by similar technologies.
All of these experiences have made me a better teacher. I spent the first two years of my teaching career using nothing but a whiteboard and whiteboard markers, with Xeroxed copies of any pictures I wanted to show my classes. My one overhead projector had a light bulb that would perpetually explode in the middle of the classroom, making it impossible for me to project transparencies for more than one month, every other month.
Finally, this past year, I was given a Promethean Board, which has completely changed the way I am able to teach. In a place where “lecture-and-take-notes” is no longer the accepted norm, the power of having an interactive screen that I can hook up to a computer has been life-changing.
I can now pull up 3D videos from the internet, show color pictures, play with interactive timelines, display digital maps, and allow students to explore topics from the past, present, and future—all because of one simple machine. For someone who teaches English to second language learners, the tool has been absolutely invaluable. I can now supplement the words my students read in their textbooks with something that is tangible, real, and interesting.
Often I wonder how I was possibly able to teach without this technology in my classroom, and marvel at how fortunate I am to be able to have this opportunity. And so we believe: maybe more is, in fact, better. I went from having nothing to something, and it has had an undeniably positive impact on my classroom. And maybe the next step is something else. Something newer, more interactive, and even easier.
Apple recently announced their plans to involve itself more in education by changing the way schools might use textbooks. According to Apple, their development of their iBooks Textbooks for iPad is “the next chapter in learning.” These textbooks will display 3D objects, interactive images, and galleries as well as highlighting and note-taking within the textbooks. My first thought when I read this was: What’s wrong with our textbooks now?
I find the educational goals of Apple and other companies a little disturbing, if not outright dangerous. All of my positive experiences all have a common theme: the word “supplement.” Technology exists in order to supplement the students’ learning, not completely replace it. Looking at it in the latter way introduces a highly slippery slope in which at the extreme, our schools become completely run by computers, scripts, and digitized teachers, a scenario that more than a few have imagined for our future.
In other cases, technology has even been shown to be a detriment in some schools. For instance, a colleague of mine works at a high school in the state. While my experiences have been positive, hers have been a constant uphill battle. In order to encourage the use of technology in the classroom, the school decided last year to allow the use of cell phones, MP3 players, and iPods during class.
This new rule has created less “enrichment opportunities” and more excuses to listen to music, text friends, and play games during class time. My colleague spends more class time arguing with a student to take his ear buds out of his ears and turn the music down than actually teaching the class. And because of the school rules, she is not allowed to confiscate the offending item. The thought of distributing iPads in her classroom gives her nightmares.
On a larger, nationwide scale, I both support technology and worry that it will continue to widen the educational gap between those with more resources and those with less or no resources at all. Because of the stringent laws of No Child Left Behind, schools and districts are constantly under massive pressure to increase test scores and show growth in academic performance. Schools with more resources often have the money to purchase iPads for the entire school or buy the latest computer models for each classroom.
In addition, schools most likely able to afford such luxuries often have technologically literate students who are best able to utilize the tools given to them. A school like mine, on the other hand, has a mostly refugee student population where the students’ first experience with a computer was when they first entered a school in the United States.
For example, it took over an hour to administer a computer exam that, according to the average test taker, should have taken no more than thirty minutes. The main questions included how to pick an answer on the screen (press a, b, c, or d, then hit “Enter”) and how to get to the next question (Click “Next”). Though seemingly clear and straightforward skills, our students had an extremely hard time with basic computer tasks that are second nature to most American-born students.
Solutions to these issues are difficult to articulate in a nation so large and so diverse. Educators, schools and companies need to be willing to tailor different technologies to the specific needs of different student populations. My dream would be to know that all students around the nation have the exact same equal opportunities to learn the material. I hope that when one of my students moves away and attends another school, he or she will have the same access to technology that was available at our school. Of course, I understand that the reality is not quite so. Regardless, as technology becomes more and more an integral part of the US education system, I hope that it continues to open up possibilities for every single student.
photo credit igoghost
Young-Eun Park is a middle school ESL teacher at a high needs school in Denver. She is interested in exploring various issues relating to education and technology.