Guest Post by: Will Clevett
Having laptops and tablets in classrooms has been a much debated subject, with many studies done on both sides of the fence, showing both the benefits and drawbacks from students having computers in class. The potential benefits are already being used to great effect in forms such as distance learning. For future uses of technology, we could find adaptive teaching techniques allowing children to effectively have their own digital tutor which can adapt and change the level and techniques being used to help that child learn, based on their responses to previous work, and apply pressure to continue stretching the boundaries of their learning.
Many naysayers say that technology provides too many distractions and makes people less knowledgeable, as they rely on their technology to store data rather than their memory. However, this is an age-old argument which was first recorded in approximately 370 BC by Plato in his conversation with Socrates, quoting an Egyptian king:
“For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality” ~ Plato
Naturally this isn’t about computers or the internet; this was about the downsides to writing and the change that the written word presented to the world, though it’s also disconcertingly easy to apply to modern trends in technology, with the rise of the internet and mobile devices allowing people to connect constantly. While the above statement appears to have been wrong, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will remain so for the internet age.
The key distinction is the difference between using technology to support learning efforts and using that reason as an excuse to keep up to date on Facebook, and it may be true that having such easy access to social media platforms and other sources of information may just be too distracting. Google have reported that the average Android user checks their phone around 150 times a day and, despite being a middleweight phone user, I can’t deny that my usage fits into this ballpark.
This has led to many teachers banning technology in their classrooms, most commonly the mobile phone for the distractions they can cause everybody else, but following a study done by Professor Cliff Nass in 2009, it actually looks like people who try to multitask with technology are actually worse at concentrating on any of the tasks than people who don’t try to multitask. This study even led to a lecturer in social media (of all things) at New York University banning laptops and tablets in their classes unless actually required for the work.
The fact is that, for most people, computers are an everyday part of life and, as such, this should be reflected in teaching as it has been. The growth of technology has been especially helpful to many further education institutions, such as universities, allowing many students to remote control equipment from half a world away. This gives students opportunities they otherwise simply wouldn’t have had. For example, astronomers often require facilities a long way from light pollution and they may often need to take measurements from the other hemisphere, which is all now possible with the internet. Such skills are very transferable as well, with most jobs requiring proficiency with computers, at the very least, and many jobs in industrial computing requiring the remote access of equipment.
So at the end of the day, it looks like technology is going to be a massively important tool going forward in teaching at all levels. It is, however, also something which will need to be used responsibly and innovatively to structure learning rather than as a quick solution to problems.