Secondary Schools Must Embrace Technology — and Soon

The general impression of secondary schools, at least when compared to colleges, has always been that they're technologically behind. According to Leanna Kelly of The Faster Times blog, we should prepare to change that impression.

A growing percentage of both parents and teachers now believe that technology has a large part to play in K-12 classrooms. Therefore, the traditional hostile attitude to cutting-edge digital tools in secondary schools is slowly but surely giving way in the face of pragmatism.

Children today use technology constantly in their everyday life, so it is no longer realistic — nor is it helpful — to keep a school building a tech-free oasis. Moreover, knowing how to make use of digital tools will be invaluable in their future lives and careers, so denying them the opportunity to master these tools could be seriously stunting their development.

The very concept of what it means "to learn" has been redefined to take technology into account. Kelly writes that Edutopia defines four components of learning: active engagement, participation, interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world scenarios and experts. It's obvious how various gadgets like tablets and smartphones can help to achieve at least some of those.

Memorization and simple fact-based research aren't on that list: our access to information, now just a click away, means students should use information instead of simply gathering it. One NY Times article emphasizes the pointlessness of students memorizing facts and figures they can "now answer with their phones." Technology isn't making study time easier. Students have to make connections to the material they're learning. They're being asked to employ "synthesis and critical thinking and creativity, not just memorization." When I think about the long hours I spent compiling information about "state birds" and "past presidents," I can't help but think about how much more constructive those assignments would have been if I focused on whys and hows, instead of whats and whos. Technology begs a new question: what will you do with that information, now that everyone has access to it?

Technology can also be useful to answer the question that has crossed the mind of every student at one time or another: why am I doing this? Finding an answer that passes the smell test could be key to maintaining high levels of student engagement. What is easier than booting up the popular Apple iPad, a tool that is making its way into an ever-larger number of secondary school classrooms, and showing students where science and mathematics closely intersect with the the real world? Or how this knowledge is used to solve real-life problems? What could provide better motivation to learn than that?

Las Vegas first grade teacher, Alissa Lindner, works at a school that has integrated several computer programs into its curriculum. She is quick to point out the benefits because, "Concepts become riveting and motivating when children can create graphic organizers with hyperlinks demonstrating what they have learned through video of their projects and links to solid sources," Lindner says. "They can connect with other classrooms across the nation and learn together."

It's hard to believe that people in charge of our schools, who themselves are often prolific users of technology, don't see these obvious benefits, posits Kelly. In light of that, one must wonder where the continued hesitancy comes from.

Kelly proposes that the real hurdle seems to be the perception that technology is a way to replace rather than to aid teachers. If that is their concern, it is misguided. Teachers might no longer be needed to dispense information that can easily be found online, but that doesn't mean that students won't continue to need help with absorbing, understanding and integrating it. No matter how "wired" the classroom of the future will be, the role of the teacher will never be upgraded away.

09 21, 2012
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