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Technology In The Classroom: Proceed With Caution

Recently, I wrote about the concerns some teachers had about technology in the classroom as revealed by a Pew Research study, especially the concern that many new technologies serve to distract more than teach. However, this was not their only concern. 71% listed distraction as a concern but another 58% said that new technologies were making it more difficult for students to learn to write well.

My wife teaches at a major university where students are required to write in APA format. She frequently complains about the deplorable grammar students employ as they get tired or draw too close to an important deadline. Their prose begins to take on the qualities of their texting, which be sheer practice has become their default writing style. Even though this may be a university problem, it is easy to see how this trend would extend to the lower grades as well.

48% of teachers said technology actually lowers the quality of homework. It should come as no surprise that students prefer Facebook, YouTube and video games by a wide margin, leaving precious little mental space for their studies. No homework yet invented can compete with the life and death struggle of Halo or the social lure of Facebook. We can only hope something that fits that bill will be developed in the future. (Some programs are coming close and show real promise.)

Another challenge involves critical thinking skills. Clearly there is no shortage of opinions on the Internet, though they are not equally well informed. Many programs on the Internet are specifically designed to feed you a constant stream of what you have already expressed an interest in, which means those who spend a great deal of time on the Internet may not see diverse opinions or learn to distinguish between qualified voices and those that are simply wishful thinking.

While these concerns are valid, technology also shows a promising future for those who employ it correctly. The same teachers who expressed concerns about the downside of technology also saw the promise inherent in such programs; 99% said the Internet offered a wider selection of resources than schools could otherwise offer, 76% were mostly positive about search engine results and 65% felt a connection to the Internet made students more self-sufficient. And those are just a few of the powerful incentives for digitizing the classroom. The challenge, therefore, will be to find ways to move ahead in such a way that we maximize the benefits while minimizing the potential hazards.

The future of education will likely be far different from anything we have seen in the past, with the potential for huge advancements. But we need to proceed with our eyes open as we carefully evaluate the results from each step of the process. We simply don’t have the time, money or resources to proceed with anything less than getting it right the first time.