Students programming robot with tablet

How does technology affect education?

The students in your school can’t imagine living without technology. You probably can’t either. It’s become so entrenched in our lives that most people would give up almost anything before their technology devices.

After all, technology has played a vital role in education for generations. Computers have served in a variety of roles, from helping office assistants file student records to assisting classroom tutors. Today’s classrooms rely on intelligent automated learning and telecommunication to engage students in hands-on learning. It’s part of the preparation for living and working in a digital world.

School leaders recognize the benefits of incorporating technology in education. So do their faculty.

Teachers are quick to point out how technology improves learning. Most notably, technology engages students in simulated experiences and encourages them to practice collaborative decision-making skills. Done right, this academic exposure to technology deepens understanding because learners internalize concepts while acquiring authentic skills.

Students using devices for science experiment
Photo: Google Edu

Simulated experiences

It’s not a secret that students find traditional textbooks uninteresting. Twenty-first-century learners carry the world into their classrooms in their hands, quite literally. Their handheld devices research, communicate, and connect far beyond the physical boundaries of school. Teachers take students out to explore the world using similar technology. The logistics of scheduling and paying for academic excursions is no longer an issue, thanks to simulations and virtual reality. Digital field trips, science experiments, and even historical expeditions augment curriculum in ways that reading a textbook never could.

Technology enables students to form deep connections with learning. As Tech Edvocate author Dr. Matthew Lynch notes, “Technology can actually be a major tool, both in terms of pedagogical resources and in terms of connecting with the younger generations.” In other words, technology sets the stage for collaboration.

Collaborative skills

Technology in education does more than facilitate connections between generations — it’s also a great way to encourage active learning. Technology provides opportunities for students to consider real challenges and come up with solutions.

Solving these problems often requires teamwork. Edtech makes working with others from diverse backgrounds possible. Students reach out to subject matter experts beyond the classroom and then collaborate with peers around the globe to discuss ideas with others who may have different backgrounds, experiences, and ideas.

For example, whereas students in decades past primarily relied on the library and their instructors for information, students nowadays can consult experts on networks like Stack Exchange to get answers to their course-related questions in many subjects.

Through technology, students can “leverage their knowledge of digital technologies to creatively solve problems, complete projects, gain globally relevant knowledge and accomplish goals.”

This is exactly the kind of learning experience administrators and school leaders want to see for their students. After all, the best learning processes are authentic, relevant, and equitable. Furthermore, lessons like these ensure that students will remember what they learned.

Avoiding technology dangers

In many schools, however, technology appears to be an “overpriced distraction.”

Leave it unsupervised, and it becomes an interruption. Use technology as a digital replacement for books and worksheets, and it becomes an expensive digital substitution. Any technology integration in education must be purposeful, developed professionally, and monitored.

School administrators must stay on top of how technology is being used in their schools. They have to provide high-quality professional development to the teachers expected to incorporate it into the classroom. And finally, education leaders need to monitor the quality and efficacy of the technology programs in use.

Teacher helping students looking at computers
Photo: Google Edu

What are we teaching?

It’s common for administrators to find themselves removed from curriculum and instruction. Discipline, transportation, and building safety concerns can divert their attention from what’s going on in the classrooms. The principals who know what’s taught in their schools’ classes have gained this knowledge by being present in the classrooms and talking with faculty about lesson planning. They discuss software and app concerns with vendors, and they keep parents apprised of new developments.

While administrators run their schools and collaborate with teachers, technology continues to grow and learn from every interaction. Machine learning is amassing a tremendous amount of knowledge and finding ways to apply it. When technology attains more learning experience than the collective knowledge of humans, we will have reached the point of singularity. We’ll be there in less than a couple of generations. Computers will be able to outthink us, and there’s a real danger that they will outsmart us as well.

Elon Musk predicts that allowing artificial intelligence to expand without oversight is more treacherous than anyone realizes. Although Musk believes in a laissez-faire approach to business monitoring, he advocates for the regulation of machine learning and AI in several industries, including education. 

Education leaders ought to worry about what technology is teaching students. Is classroom-based AI instructing or inculcating? Monitoring the use of AI in the classroom is a necessity.

Inequity

Technology was to be the panacea for everything wrong in schools. It would reduce teacher workload and foster student inclusion. Learners could move forward at their own pace. In short, technology would help education break away from an outdated delivery model. It would transform schools everywhere.

In some situations, however, technology has widened the gap between student populations. Students who have 24/7 access to technology are at an advantage over their peers with limited or no access. School leaders have the power to change that by ensuring that every student has technology access. They can make education technology purposeful and more readily available.

Purposeful technology implementation begins with equitable access. No learner should be denied the use of a handheld digital device any more than you would tell students that they can’t borrow a pencil. Principals must make sure that their campus technology plan does not prevent students from having the access they need. This classroom technology equity goes beyond equipment and bandwidth. You can make sure every student has a device and the internet capacity to use it, but equity doesn’t stop there. Ask yourself these questions as you monitor the use of technology at your school:

  • Do only some students participate in simulations and projects requiring technology?
  • Are there any learners that use technology solely for drill and kill? 
  • How do your teachers create meaningful experiences that promote learning for every child in the classroom?

Your answers will guide you in assuring the effectiveness of technology at your school.

Teacher PD tech session
Photo: Google Edu

What instructional leaders can do to make it better

Maximizing technology’s holistic approach to inclusion requires that you establish a three-pronged approach.

First, identify what effective instructional technology inclusion looks like. Initiate conversations with your teachers, and encourage them to explore best practices. Bring these ideas back to your campus and create a plan for education technology at your school.

Secondly, provide your teachers with the professional development they need to be successful leaders in their classrooms. You cannot begin any initiative without providing initial training and ongoing support. Your teachers are more likely to create an effective learning environment that incorporates the best of technology if they receive formal training.

And finally, monitor what’s taught, how it’s implemented, and that all students have full access to the technology they need.

Instructional technology can make a difference in learning outcomes. All it takes is a school leader who is willing to help their teachers create meaningful learning experiences for every student.

Photo: Google Edu

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