Why Technology Is Important
It seems odd to me to write a paper about the importance of technology in education. While there may still be skeptics within the field of education, I would imagine that most people would agree that a technology rich environment enhances a child’s education at least to some degree. Even teachers who are reluctant to infuse technology into their lesson plans would have to see the merit of students using technology consistently in classrooms.
Most of the recent research articles I’ve read on technology and classroom learning conclude not only that there is an increase in student achievement in technology rich classroom environments, but also an increase in student motivation, especially among at risk students. One of the most important reasons to use technology in the classroom is simply that it mirrors work in the “real world. ” Most jobs require employees to have technology skills of varying degrees. These employers would not necessarily be willing to train people who do not have the appropriate skills.
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During times of economic downturns and instability, our students will have to compete for jobs. To acquire technology skills necessary for the workplace, students need to use technology consistently, not just one semester of one year of high school during technology class. If this is the only time they are given the opportunity to use technology, their skills will surely suffer. If our role as educators is to prepare our students for life after school, we need to do all we can to ensure they will be competitive in the workplace.
Providing students with the opportunity to not only use but to also expand these skills across all content areas is essential to ensuring solid technology skills. Students going on to college also need to have technology skills to meet the demands of college courses. I’m not even sure if a student can register for courses without internet access. With more and more courses offered on line, students without these skills will certainly be at a disadvantage. One of the most important advantages of the technology rich classroom is the access it affords to information.
At the most basic level, access to on line dictionaries, encyclopedias, maps, and other resource material puts current resource material in the hands of each student (no more sharing of one or two dictionaries for an entire class or using an encyclopedia from 1973! ). The wealth of information, primary source materials, and variety of perspectives available on the internet is mind boggling to say the least. The ability to compare and synthesize information from a variety of perspectives within a matter of minutes is invaluable in the social studies classroom.
Analyzing a current event from the perspective of countries around the world was impossible without internet access. In contrast, the information available at most schools libraries seems miniscule at best. Having students conduct research via the internet calls into question the efficiency of accessing information. I’ve had the experience of having students do library research for a project. Our trip to the school’s library was not very successful, so I ordered a bus and we headed off to a city with a larger and much better library. We were there for 3 hours. Back in the classroom the next day, many students needed additional information.
We were all rather frustrated with the whole process which seemed like a colossal waste of time. Due to the time constraints most teachers are under, consistently allowing this kind of time to do research is simply not feasible. The internet affords my students the luxury of being able to regularly conduct research for projects and papers. More time can be spent working with information rather than finding information. Some may argue that there is so much information available on the internet that it could be overwhelming, or students will spend too much time searching for information.
However, if students are given guidance with respect to which internet sites would be best suited for their needs, and are given specific instruction on how to conduct internet searches, their time will be used more efficiently. Furthermore, the internet provides my student with up to date information. Textbooks typically get replaced every ten years or so. Many of the textbooks available in my classroom still show the Soviet Union and East and West Germany. However, because we are a laptop program with wireless internet connection, we’re able to keep up with changing world borders.
Earlier this semester, as my class started reading The Jungle, I realized I didn’t have enough copies of novel to go around. Uh oh… I logged on to the internet and in two minutes had a website which publishes the novel (free of charge! ). The site separates the novel into chapters, and with a click on the link to chapter one, off we went to the streets of turn of the century Chicago. Upon further investigation, I discovered that most books that are used in high school literature classes which have a copyright 70 years old or older are published on the internet.
The ability to engage students in many different types of activities is another advantage of technology in the classroom. There is an enormous selection of educational software available across all content areas. There is an abundance of software available to download at no cost. I’ve had students design landscapes, construct timelines, design book covers, compose rock music, design video games, and edit video using various software programs. The variety of activities adds interests and continues to motivate students. Technology provides students with the opportunity to communicate their knowledge in new and exciting ways.
Technology assists students in making high quality presentations. These presentations could include powerpoint presentations, digital video productions, digital photo essays, websites, and digital portfolios. It has been my experience that students who prepare work for an audience will usually take their work more seriously and are more motivated to produce a quality product. It has also been my experience that when students conduct electronically enhanced presentations, their classmates pay closer attention to what they have to say. Due to technology, the audience for these presentations is no longer limited to classmates.
Projects can be posted to a website, broadening the communication potential. This also provides students with the opportunity to have their work displayed over a longer period of time. Email projects with students from other countries allow students the opportunity to personally connect with the far off places they are learning about without leaving the classroom. In addition, students can collaborate with other students on projects, with students not only from their own classrooms or schools, but with students from around the world.
Technology can also improve communication between teachers and students. Assignments can be posted to a website so students have continual access to class requirements. Students can email teachers with homework questions and can receive feedback before the next school day. Teachers can email students with assignment updates, reminders, and encouragement. Up to date grades can be posted so students (and parents) know their progress. Teachers cans set up chat rooms or have students post responses to bulletin boards. Technology can assist students with special needs.
Adaptive/assistive technologies help students with various disabilities. I’ve personally used software that helps students who have severe writing difficulties. This technology allowed the student to speak into a computer microphone, and the program typed the spoken word. Not only did it provide the student with increased success, it also motivated the student to complete assignments that previously would have been neglected. A technology rich classroom affords a teaching and learning style that is student centered, where students take more ownership of their work.
In this environment, the emphasis shifts from teacher as purveyor of knowledge, to teacher as guide and coach, from student as receiver of knowledge to student as active discoverer. Technology can support this in numerous ways. Technology can be used as a tool for representing student ideas and understanding of content by creating multimedia presentations where students become teachers. Simulations and role playing activities provide students with real world problem solving opportunities. Web quests provide students with the opportunity to produce authentic work involving higher order thinking skills.
Technology can be used as a medium to support collaborative projects and build a community of learners. Students with good technology skills can transfer these skills successfully into other content areas in classrooms that are technology rich. In other words, students who successfully use technology can use it for success in other content areas. I had a student, Alex, who had excellent technology skills, most of which were self-taught. Alex had a great deal of difficulty in my social studies/English block class. Reading and writing was difficult for him, and he would never read out loud in class.
He lacked confidence in his reading ability, and insisted that he lacked comprehension skills. His writing assignments were simply not completed. Six weeks into the semester, I assigned a powerpoint presentation. Alex did a superb job with his presentation. He actually read his slides to the class, and although his reading wasn’t perfect, he did it, and did it with confidence. It literally brought tears to my eyes to see this student be successful and confident. Later on that day I spoke with Alex about his presentation and told him what a wonderful job he had done. We agreed that when he does a writing ssignment, he could use powerpoint to create an outline and working together, we could proceed from that point with a paper. When I asked why he was willing to read his slides out loud to the class but never from our textbook or novel readings, he told me he was able to read his powerpoint because it was his, not someone else’s. The ownership of the product and the knowledge that it was a high quality product gave him the confidence he needed. He was proud of his product and willing to take the risk. The next day, Alex volunteered to read out loud in class. It was a moment I’ll never forget…