Why Tech Isn’t An Option: Pros and Cons of Teaching in the Digital Age

It’s not uncommon today to see students from kindergarten through high school using tablets instead of textbooks, and find teachers manipulating large touch screens instead of writing on a board with chalk or dry-erase markers. Digital literacy is more important than ever, and school districts around the country have been scrambling to gain access to high-tech tools that – hopefully – will better prepare students to enter the workforce or further their education.

There are certainly many benefits of a digital classroom, such as the ability to live stream current events, Skype with other classrooms around the world, and provide interactive maps showing how a particular region has changed over time. Artificial intelligence alone is a topic that could be explored at each age level with access to the appropriate tools. However, children today are often overwhelmed with screen time both at home during their leisure hours and increasingly during the school day.

How can you balance the science of education and the delivery mechanism of technology to help students become well-rounded learners in a world where technology truly is not optional?

Pros of Using Digital Tools in the Classroom

Volumes of data on any topic under the sun are available with a few taps or clicks -- and teachers have an entire world of tools for education at their fingertips. Whether you are looking for a specific line from a famous published work or attempting to quickly determine exactly how far it is from Earth to the Sun, the Internet is a wild and wondrous place. Teachers are able to pull this information together in a way that is logical and cohesive before presenting it to their classrooms. Plus, these enhanced tools level the digital playing field and allow children the same access to information regardless of their circumstances at home.

Some of the exciting uses of technology include:

  • Showing instead of telling – PowerPoint presentations, interactive images, video and audio all assist visual and auditory learners to grasp important concepts.
  • Increased participation and engagement – Online polling or asking quiz questions during lectures (with instantaneous results) can increase engagement and make it easier for shy students to participate.
  • Gamification of learning - Using role play simulators or video-game style reward systems can make learning more fun.
  • Automating tedious tasks can free teachers to have more meaningful interaction with students.
  • Collaborative projects are a lot easier with screen sharing, messaging, and cloud-based applications like Google Docs.
  • Up-to-date information – Connection to the web means students can learn about the world in real time, as events unfold instead of being limited by out-of-date textbooks.

Today’s students are digital natives who have grown up with technology. Using it to enhance education often helps them grasp challenging topics faster. While national student-computer ratios hover quite high at five students per computer, these electronic methods are widely utilized throughout the country for elementary education. Sales of iPads in particular for the educational market were up 32% and surpassed 1 million units in 2017. This is not surprising considering Apple recently released nearly 200,000 apps in the App Store are specifically focused on education.

There is no upper or lower limit for the gains that can be seen in the classrooms. Even preschoolers find themselves drawn deeper into a story when there are interactive elements that catch their attention. For older grades, the paradigm of teachers spending a great deal of time writing notes on the chalkboard for students to copy no longer applies. Instead, teachers are able to more rapidly synthesize the information and provide students with activities that are designed more to test their understanding than their ability to accurately copy information from a chalkboard. Teachers can quickly deploy additional activities to students who are quick learners while providing those who are having difficulties with extra attention -- helping the entire classroom become successful.

While digital classrooms may sound like a utopian situation, there are some definite challenges with moving in this directions.

Cons of Digital Classrooms

Perhaps the largest challenge in implementing a digital classroom is the cost. Some schools are able to foot the bill easily, while others – especially inner-city schools – that struggle to provide the basics and pay teachers a living wage, cannot possibly afford the expensive technology. Parent-teacher organizations are often able to step in and help, but this upfront investment in the tech required to drive your smart classroom isn't insignificant. Unequal access can deepen the digital divide.

Other challenges include:

  • Maintaining expensive devices – It's also important to keep in mind that you're still dealing with children. In addition to the usual glitches and bugs, you are likely to find the tech sticky, smudged and perhaps even broken.
  • Distraction – Laptops and tablets can do much more than show educational material. Students are often tempted by games, social media, messaging, and other things and can get off task.
  • Cheating and plagiarism are a lot easier in the digital age. Although there ways to mitigate this with tools like Turnitin.com, question randomization, and specially structured tests and assignments, it adds another layer of complexity,
  • Low-quality sources – The Internet is full of unreliable information. Students may need guidance to help them find trustworthy sources when they are doing research.

These instances shouldn't deter the dedicated educator, but another reality of the connected classroom might. Children of all ages can find themselves enthralled by digital devices, spending hours at a time watching YouTube videos or playing games. This problem has been around for decades, but with the always-on, hyper-connected reality that we all live in, the problem continues to be exacerbated by technology in the classroom. You may find that your children are being distracted more easily than expected or not paying attention to directions and instead attempting to find their own way through specific tech projects.

Make Technology Work for You

Whether your a hopeless Luddite or a dedicated techie, teaching technology to the children in your classroom is not an optional endeavor. Perhaps one of the most difficult jobs for teachers is finding the ideal balance between screen time and active teaching that allows children to soak in the concepts while still learning how to interact with others in a learning environment. For inspiration and ideas, check out our list of free tech tools for teachers.

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