Does Technology Aid Learning in the Classroom?

The march from paper and pen to stylus and screen is well on the way. From school recruitment to homework sessions, the internet now pervades every aspect of school life. Why should it not? Technology has now become such an important part of life that it seems actively immoral not to introduce it to children. Even without committing to that point, technology offers the best shared ground in which to speak meaningfully to a generation of learners who have never known a pre-internet world.

Most commentators on the issue of educational technology (‘edtech’ to those who prefer their concepts in the form of Twitter-friendly, bitesize portmanteaus) tend to fall into one of two camps. The first embrace iPads as the worthy successor to the exercise book and negotiate nearly every aspect of teaching through the cloud. The second have banned little black boxes from their schools in a harrumph of seemingly nostalgic discontent. They both have a point.  

The technologists are striving towards the ‘best case scenario’ – a completely integrated teaching and learning unit where teachers, parents, and pupils have ordered and safe access to the world’s shared resources and tools on every subject. The traditionalists are striving to avoid the ‘worst-case scenario’ – an unregulated network of differing versions and editions of devices where pupils can easily use and abuse recreational apps freely putting everyone in serious risk.

Technology certainly can aid learning in the classroom. It can give pupils new methods and resources at the tap of a button and streamline outdated and overcomplicated systems. But does it also give pupils too much power? Almost every pupil will be more savvy with an iPad, more comfortable looking at code, and more knowledgeable about web privacy than the teacher of the class.

What do you think is going to happen if you tell a school full of children they can’t go on Twitter on their school tablets? Of course, they’re going to do it.

But can you stop them? It’s harder than you think.

Even teacher websites and resource libraries can be subject to the perennial quality that isn’t likely to change with the coming of Apple’s next technology revolution: mischief.

By mischief that’s not necessarily severe bullying or truancy or continued disruption – it’s that spark in the eyes of most children that means they’re probably not going to do exactly what you tell them to do. Schools are used to this kind of mischief and have been dealing with it for thousands of years. The problem with adding technology into the mix is that the medium of the mischief no longer falls into the domain of the teacher – the physical world – it now takes place in the realm of the pupil – the virtual world.

So how do you balance the idealistic potential of classroom technology with the realistic threat of disorder? Can the perceived benefits of a ground-breaking tool outweigh the damage that could be wrought?

The bottom line, and the answer to the title question, is: would the learning gained from the classroom technology through connectivity, integration, and resources be greater than the learning lost through distraction, disorder, and deception?

Perhaps the only way to tell is by seeing how different schools are implementing technology and then learning from their successes and failures. Hold on… maybe there’s an app for that?