The BIG picture of technology in the classroom

So what does it all mean?  Is technology a boon for the classroom and a way to advance student learning or a crutch being used to falsely engage students without really offering any educational substance?

In the article we read, Technology’s Tendency to Undermine Serious Study, they conclude by saying, ” although technology has great potential to motivate and engage students, it can also change their fundamental ideas about the purposes of schools, potentially to their own detriment.”  I can see their point and I do think there are definitely cases when technology is being used for technology’s sake alone without any thought as to whether or not it is the best way to teach a topic to students.  I think many of us really enjoy technology personally and sometimes, yes, it is easy to fall into the trap of being in awe of a cool new gadget or program without being concerned with its actual inherent value.  This does become a pricey proposition for students in the classroom and I don’t mean fiscally pricey.  Students have very little time to gain a lot of knowledge.  Any time that is somehow wasted is impossible to get back as teachers are always moving curriculum forward.

The turning point for technology as a hindrance or an actual benefit lies in the teacher.  As the National Science Teachers Association chapter on Technology’s Greatest Value said, “Essentially, technology use in the science classroom is most effective when it encourages deeper student engagement with science content, when it is used to support rather than replace what we know about effective science instruction, and especially when it stretches the boundaries of what is possible in the science classroom.”  Making those decisions, that comes down to the educator making the tough call on what is effective technology versus fluff.

In my own experience, I think students sometimes even more awed by what they can do with their own hands and basic equipment than they are with some new gadget.  The classroom I’m in this semester just wrapped up a unit on weather.  The students were tasked with making a variety of weather instruments and got to use them to take actual measurements for the class.  The thrill those students got from learning about and building their own thermometers, barometers, weather wanes, etc was fantastic.  I cannot imagine that they would have gotten the same depth of knowledge had they simply participated in a computer driven simulation.

Using things like the Vernier probes or even the iCell app I used provide a technology that allows students to experience science in ways they cannot easily replicate without technology. And both of them are more hands on than just watching screen.  I think if you aim for interactive technology and technology that makes the inaccessible accessible you are on the correct path.

Really it comes down to balance.  I think in science we’re fortunate to have so many different ways to present the material we teach.  And I do firmly believe that technology belongs in that mix.

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