The local news in Idaho has been filled with a lot of talk about the education reforms recently passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor. One of the controversial issues is to divert money from teacher pay to increasing technology in the classroom. If increasing the amount of technology provides more student benefit than increasing the number or teachers or quality of teachers, then it is a good idea. So the question is, does technology in the classroom benefit students, and if so by how much, and is that greater than the benefit of more teachers who are happy? Here is one product of the Idaho school system’s personal experience on the subject.
To give you a little background, I love technology and my entire working career has relied on it. I create websites and program custom web apps for clients in the financial, health care, retail, and many other sectors. I also use a computer to create logos, brochures, packaging, sales sheets, business cards, handouts, inserts, posters, and much, much more graphic design work. I also provide illustrations for book covers, children’s storybooks, and young adult novels all of which require a significant amount of digital art. So I am no stranger to technology and certainly understand its place. I’ve also had to use a diverse array of knowledge I gained in school including writing skills, math skills, accounting skills, analytic skills, debate skills, speech skills, random odd facts, and much, much more. Knowledge I’ve gained on a variety of subjects has been invaluable to me. So here are three case studies of technology in the classroom and what it did for me and my fellow classmates.
Case Study 1: High School Math
In High School I took all of the advanced math classes. In Advanced Algebra and Trig as well as Pre-Calculus, we occasionally used the T1-81 (a high tech graphing calculator) with several richer students had the then latest and greatest T1-85. In Calculus we used the HP 28 (another high tech graphing calculator). During the times we did NOT use the calculators, we learned how to do math by hand and better understand the principles. When we pulled out the calculators, students struggled with getting them to work, then once they figured it out all they had to do was punch in numbers and think about the processes taking place or the concepts being used. Or they programmed their calculator to play Mary Had A Little Lamb. In both cases, little math was learned. I honestly got a lot more out of the weeks in class we solved equations by hand then I did punching in numbers and copying the answer.
Case Study 2: College English
In college I took a computer-based English class. We sat at computers during class time and all work had to be done on the computer. During the 3-credit hour course I was required to type one paper and take two tests. And on the days the computers were malfunctioning (a common occurrence) class was cancelled. Anyone who has taken a college-level class will tell you one paper for the entire three credits is unheard of.
Since college I have become a professional writing both writing copy for websites and graphic design projects, marketing materials, newsletter articles, my regular column on Examiner.com, one young adult novel with another on the way, several short stories, and a few comic books. I have yet to use anything I learned in that computer-based class. I’m not even sure if I did learn anything.
Case Study 3: College History
I also took an Internet based Art History class. We were given a schedule of what we were to research, then let loose to scour the Internet for information and present it to the class. I had a friend in another Art History class being taught traditionally. I was always amazed how much they covered that we didn’t even touch. Later I took two other Art History classes taught traditionally, and I learned much more from those. Technology again got in the way of education.
These are just three of many, many examples I have. I could also include computers causing graphic designers to be worse designers, illustrators not drawing as well, business classes where more time was spent on finding funny pictures and cool transitions for a presentation than on researching and finding content for the presentation, and much more, but I think you’re getting the picture.
What am I saying?
Now, I’m not saying technology doesn’t have its place in a classroom. Word processors are the best way to type papers, and students should learn to use them and use them well. PowerPoint presentations, videos, and scientific calculators are also very helpful.
What I’m saying is whenever a teacher or institution tried to rely on technology or put great emphasis on technology, education has suffered. I have personally learned more from a teacher who was passionate about a subject and allowed to share that passion with me without worrying about whether the information would be on a standardized test or how to get some gadget to work.
My experience has told me that giving students laptops, iPads, new computers, and other cool gadgets isn’t going to improve education, but instead be a distraction from it. Unfortunately, it’ll be several years in the future before the data exists to prove this, and by then the damage will be done and the students will not be as capable as they could and should be.