It is clear that technology has changed many aspects of society as computers, smart devices and Internet usage dominate the modern world. Schools have rushed to keep up, as classrooms are converted to labs, and school boards decide whether they should replace textbooks with digital tablets. The general assumption is that technology will lead to better learning, but is that really the case? Does technology create a superior learning environment, or has education been caught up in the same drive for consumerism that has gripped much of society?
Preparation for what?
To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, education attempts to prepare children and young adults for the future, but society has a hard time predicting what will happen next week. The question of preparation is a valid one, as educators are tasked with giving students the building blocks for future success. Technology is certainly exciting, but does it give students an enhanced ability to read, write and think critically? In a recent article, it was suggested that children don’t necessarily need to be immersed in technology at an early age because so much of the digital world is easily accessible and can be picked up at a later date. In addition, he suggests that data is lacking in terms of showing that technology creates superior educational outcomes. Ironically, a number of technological leaders in Silicon Valley send their children to a Waldorf school, where computers are conspicuously absent.
Where does it end?
The other challenge with technology is that schools are faced with a constant quandary as to what hardware and software should be purchased. Not so long ago, schools were building computer labs and putting Internet ports everywhere. Then, desktops were replaced by laptops, and “smart” classrooms gave way to wireless routers that provide Internet access to the whole campus. Today, schools that recently discussed getting laptops for every student are talking about buying tablets for all of their students. Is there an end to the innovation? Or are schools doomed to face the reality that any purchase will be obsolete the moment it is shipped?
The key question has to do with learning itself, which is an overarching question that education constantly struggles to answer. Does technology create better education outcomes? Or, does technology represent a quantity of educational “eye candy” that is more expensive distraction than definitive learning tool? Proponents of technology will suggest that students can become more engaged when exposed to the visual elements of technology, and that the use of diverse media makes learning more exciting. Others, like the Waldorf schools, suggest that functioning in a diverse and changing world is still about core intellectual competencies, which can be attained just as easily through “old school” methodologies.
Marketing versus education
The reality is that schools today feel a certain amount of pressure to market themselves to a diverse community that equates technological advancement with quality and competence. Whether educational technology will reach a saturation point in the future is unknown. However, it does behoove educational institutions to carefully consider their technological purchases and ask the broad questions of educational outcomes. Does technology really make things better, or are we enamored with items that are bright and shiny?
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