To preface this article, I originally set out to report on how teachers can best
use technology in the classroom. Which technologies work best with which
age groups? Which activities have been used with the most success? What
tips can seasoned teachers provide for us newcomers? It soon became
obvious, though, that incorporating technology into the classroom has its
drawbacks. What follows is what I learned, and I was surprised.
Even as far back as 1991, 98% of all U.S. schools contained at least one computer. Today, it’s likely ninety-eight computers for every one school. The classrooms in many school districts contain at least a few computers, there’s often a school computer lab outfitted with desks and computers for an entire class to use at one time, and there’s often a cart or two containing laptops that teachers can wheel into their classroom. In the upper grades and in college, students generally have their own laptop “notebooks” that they carry to class. The newest technology to enter the education arena, however, is the interactive whiteboard, or SMART Board. These combine multimedia functions with internet access and offer educational, interactive programs for teachers and students.
But the pitfalls of too much technology in the classroom are quickly becoming evident. For children, the drawbacks of technology in general, and of the internet in particular, have resulted in cyber bullying and the threat of sexual predators. Daily newscasts provide a quick glimpse of the perils of technology and in the classroom it can be no less treacherous.
When students in the younger grades use computers for research, which is often its purpose, much time is wasted sifting through the numerous websites for the one that offers the most relevant information. Many websites, Wikipedia for one, often contain inaccurate information. The temptation to browse is huge. A quick stroll through a computer lab finds many students off topic, playing games, shopping, or viewing You Tube. Software filters, installed to prevent students from accessing certain types of websites, aren’t perfect and are not foolproof. At all grade levels, the opportunity and temptation to plagiarize is great and the internet makes it easy. At the upper levels, particularly in college, regular laptop use offers even more distraction. Professors don’t know if a student’s diligently typing notes or updating his Facebook page (or shopping, or researching a paper due in a different course, or talking to their friend in Katmandu). Professors at Harvard, Yale and Columbia have recently banned the use of laptops in their classrooms and lecture halls, citing such distractions. In many classes, the “killswitch” is used when teachers sense that the Wi-Fi connection is being abused.
The second huge drawback of technology in the classroom is the cost. Outfitting a single school with desktop computers, laptops and a few SMART Boards runs into tens of thousands of dollars. Unlike a decade ago, school districts must now employ a technology consultant to address the daily glitches that naturally occur from so much technology use. Much of these costs are necessary and justified. But school districts that indiscriminately purchase x-number of computers, laptops, SMART Boards and the accompanying software are spending money that might have been better spent elsewhere. Training teachers and staff in the use of these new technologies takes money and time, too, further straining school budgets.
Ask two students to look up the definition of a word and one will have barely logged on to dictionary.com when the other one has already taken out her Webster’s from her desk, located the word and has moved on to the next task. Sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best way.