The iClassroom: Ready or Not, Here It Comes

Photo Credits: Dead Zone

When I was in elementary school, computers had their own room. By the time Facebook emerged in high school, it was banned. School before college had always seemed anti-social network, anti-tech, projector-obsessed, and hopelessly behind the times.

Well, that’s all about to change.

A recent survey of 883 parents and 812 K-12 teachers by the Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission showed that 96 percent of teachers and 91 percent of parents think that technology is more important than ever in American classrooms. Parents and teachers aren’t as hostile to the idea of introducing technology into classrooms, and even elementary students seem to need tablets and iClickers to learn these days.

Some claim technology threatens a teacher’s role, is distracting, and an unwise expense. But in a tech-steeped world, how could archaic classrooms prepare children for a globally connected, tech savvy world? Technology may be the “new kid” in American class rooms, but here are some reasons why its here to stay:

1. Learning Isn’t Just About Gathering Information Anymore

According to Edutopia, there are four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts.

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?

2. Tech Increases Student Engagement

Einsteins of the world aside, math and science have long been doomed as tortuous “this-is-pointless-when-will-I-use-this-in-the-real-world” subjects that struggle to capture students’ attention. With technologically savvy teaching, students can see where “science and math intersect with the real world careers they never thought about…[the subjects] can translate into an interest in careers in those fields, an area where the U.S. [has] been lagging behind,” according to Paulo Bliksten, an assistant professor of education at Stanford University. 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.”

3. Tech Is a “Tool,” Not A Teacher Replacement

Teachers aren’t just the “gatekeepers” of knowledge anymore—and it’s not a bad thing. A recent article in the Guardian points out that, “Students no longer need to learn things second hand, they can go straight to the expert, leaving classroom teachers more time to prepare follow-up material or embellish this learning in different ways.” Teachers don’t have to waste class time ensuring students learn facts they’ll forget by freshman year— instead, they can have students discuss these facts in a meaningful context. Such active engagement is preparation for higher education, where your professors expect your papers to exhibit comprehensive understanding of a subject, not just your ability to regurgitate information. In-class connections with experts and industry professionals, as well as with other students worldwide, are another bonus to technology-filled classrooms. Wired classrooms more adequately reflect the way the world works—greater connectivity and global collaboration are now the facts of everyday life. Technology also serves to aid students in ways traditional teaching, working as the great “equalizer” by enabling children with learning disabilities to work in “learning paths” at a pace specifically tailored for them. Lindner sees technology as another “tool” to meet student needs, and that the power of technology lies in knowing its limitations:

A computer only knows how a child did on a particular assignment on a particular day. They cannot diagnose learning disabilities. They do not know the child may have missed breakfast and was kicked out of their apartment with their family the night before. [Computers] cannot account for the long-term effects of being verbally or physically abused at home…I have seen the greatest results by working one-on-one with a child who realized I truly valued their success, and [they] began to respect their own insight. Self-motivation and respect of a [child’s] contributions cannot be “programmed,” only nurtured through human interaction.

What’s The Holdup?

With all of the benefits, why are some American schools still lagging behind? Simple: cost and training.

Although technology integration can mean long-term savings for schools and families (greater online class offerings, for example), it’s difficult for many cash-strapped schools to come up with money to fund tablets/iPads/electronic whiteboards. In fact, according to a recent report by MSNBC, cost is the “primary limiting factor, more than learning how to use the new tools or any shortcomings in the tools themselves.” While offering technology in schools that serve low-income families—a group unlikely to have broadband access at home— is vital, limited resources mean they are often the last institutions to see upgraded technology. Not only is the equipment expensive, but when teachers do get new tech, they need to know how to use it. This requires more funding and time investments for training and support. The MSNBC report highlights the fact that, although teachers agree that technology makes their “job easier and [improves] the students experience,” a recent PBS-funded VeraQuest survey of K-12 teachers showed that only “21 percent felt they had the right level of technology in the classroom.”

The bottom line? Tech will (and should) come to American schools. Schools must prepare their students for current world realities, and let’s face it—computers, social media, and google aren’t going anywhere soon.

Leanna Kelly is a California native who survived college in New Jersey and England to get into New York. She enjoys writing, cooking, running, playing piano, and painting when she’s not coloring pictu ...read more

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