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How technology is changing the classroom

Updated: May 2, 2022

By Parker Sears

Walking into an elementary school classroom today reveals something much more modern and inviting than the classrooms of just a few years ago.

Gone are the desks with hard chairs attached, chalkboards and mounds of homework papers.

In their place are exercise balls for chairs at large tables featuring a tablet for each student. Dry erase boards are even ancient as smartboards are in multiple places around a classroom. There are few pencil boxes because everything is turned in online. Even art classes are often done with digital media.

With the infiltration of technology in the classroom environment there has been a lot of discussion about its impact on student learning, and many studies suggest technology has been beneficial for both teachers and students when it comes to the instruction as well as the understanding of important concepts.

Over the past several decades, there has been a rather swift evolution of technological milestones in education and particularly within the classrooms, proving that it will likely become even more vital in the future.

Brief history of technology in education

The early school classroom wasn’t much more than desks facing entire walls of chalkboard for teachers to painstakingly write notes. The chalkboard, created in the early 1800s by Scottish teacher James Pillans, is still around today but relatively rare in most school classrooms.

The shift from the chalkboard to the dry-erase whiteboard came around in the mid to late 1980s when many schools decided that it was easier to clean a whiteboard than contaminating the classroom with chalk dust.

Today, most classrooms are outfitted with at least a few whiteboards that are porcelain- or enamel- coated with steel or aluminum for the frame and are virtually impossible to stain with modern dry erase markers and a wet cloth or eraser.

But the whiteboard has mostly given way to Interactive boards, or smart boards, the newest wave of presentation technology. These smartboards are connected to a projector and computer, casting images and notes and videos on a screen rather than writing sentences by hand on a board.

Every year the public is introduced to new technology. The Ipad came out in 2010 and had a $499 price tag. During this time, many schools were looking to replace textbooks with online applications that included apps to help teach lessons to students. This concept would also allow students to watch teacher-produced video lessons and be able to replace the poster-board presentations.

The introduction of computers in schools has been developing rapidly over the past few decades. Although computers were beginning to be used in schools in the 1970s and 80s, computer “labs weren’t very common until the 1990s. Computer labs started to progress very quickly into the 21st century. In fact, only 35% of schools in the United States had internet access in 1994, but by 2000, 98% had internet access.

Prior to the pandemic many school districts were already looking to implement more technology in the classroom, securing a “1-to-1 policy” in which every student would be supplied their own electronic device, whether it be a tablet, laptop, Chromebook, etc. In fact, one California school district was able to pivot 14,500 students from in-person classes to online learning in just a week when the pandemic occurred due to every student having access to a digital device.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the country in early 2020, schools began scrambling to figure out ways to keep students engaged with classroom curricula from the comfort of their homes. Because remote learning was the only way to keep schools and students moving through their grade during the lockdown, the rapid development of tools such as video chat and creative online assignments pushed education to online environments.

The pandemic brought into focus a trend that had been developing for years, especially in higher education, but with almost no urgency- a greater capability to teach and learn from anywhere because access to the education didn’t require proximity but rather connectivity.

New teaching techniques utilize technology

With the flourishing amount of technology in today’s world many teachers have adapted ways to teach students utilizing technology in classroom environments.

“I set up Prezis or PowerPoints to structure my classes. I show internet videos, post in-class activities in Google Docs, have students put paper drafts in Google Docs for peer editing, and have them use their own devices to research and analyze events in class,” said Julie Davis, a communication professor at the College of Charleston.

Not all students are able to listen to lectures and be engaged. Some students need visuals like Prezi and PowerPoints to be able to learn the information being taught.

Technology has made educators rethink how they teach their lessons and promote learning for their students.It is constantly changing and evolving and it is important for educators to learn how to use it effectively.

“In today’s age, we would not be able to continue education without the level of technology that is implemented,” said Jack Kurlander, a student at the College of Charleston. “Rarely do professors write on the board or invite students up to interact in front of the class. Now there are shared PowerPoints and pre recorded lectures assigned to students.”

But the implementation of technology and new teaching techniques has made it much easier for teachers.

“I teach a lot from Google Slides,” said Carissa Kase, a fifth-grade teacher at a local Charleston Elementary school.

With Google Slides, she is able to post a daily agenda slide that lets the students know what they will be working on during class and helps set the tone of the expectations for the class.

“If a student is absent or needs to refer back to what we discussed, it is available to them. This limits the amount of time I spend on re-teaching a lesson,” Kase added.

Having lectures and assignments all online is beneficial for everyone. Students who miss class can access assignments from home and stay more up-to-date on work, and teachers don’t waste time rehearsing the information when a student returns.

Technology's effect on student learning

Technology has many advantages that are beneficial to students' learning.

“Technology has opened up a wide range of information to students. Databases can contain more journals than physical libraries and search engines can find just about any information at any time” said Davis. This advantage is vital to students' learning and is useful for those that have to do projects or need journal articles for their research.

An important aspect to understand is that the use of technology allows 24/7 access to educational resources that help student learning. Students can easily search the web for educational videos and if they are in a hybrid version of a class they can go at their own pace.

Education through technology fosters collaboration where students can work with each other to better understand the material that is being taught.

Since society has shifted to a technology driven world, many jobs require understanding of technology in the workplace. It is estimated that 75% of jobs by 2030 will require technology skills in the workplace. By having a base of understanding for students and technology use it will help them later in life.

“I believe the next generations that grow up with vast amounts of knowledge in technology will be able to handle jobs that require understanding of technology a lot better,” said Kurlander.

Technology in education comes with its fair share of disadvantages as well.

Distractions in the classroom have been a large part of school systems that have made them reluctant to issue Ipads, tablets or laptops to students. In a recent survey, it has been found that some students see it as a “mere distraction” and it’s just another action that they must ignore or just tolerate.

Keeping students focused and on task can be a struggle.

Something that Carissa Kase says is a struggle is, “students being off task and on something besides their work.” Which can be a huge disadvantage for teachers that have to constantly monitor students' actions.

It’s the unforeseen issues with the technology functioning properly that can make it a disadvantage.

There are other unforeseen issues that could add to the problem. “There are often malfunctions which throw the entire day off such as apps being down, Wi-Fi not working, work getting deleted, etc.,” Kase added.

Many schools resorted to applications such as Zoom, a video chat function, for students who were doing remote learning. Through Zoom, teachers are able to teach lessons to students without being in the classroom.

“Attending class via Zoom is easier, but makes engagement more difficult,” said Davis.

Things such as Zoom are important in learning but students tend to get distracted, especially if they are in their own home.

Disparity of technology in the classroom

There is a digital disparity for schools that have the money for technology and those that don’t. Schools need money and funding and there are many school districts across the country that do not have the tax base or the legislative support to fund the developing use of technology.

This has created a digital divide among the nation’s schools and that became vividly apparent when the pandemic struck.

As schools shut down in March, educators worked tirelessly to find way to continue the education remotely. This meant assigning online work to students to who may or may not have had easy access.

The pandemic revealed a broad spectrum of computer hardware at home- from outdated and slow to high-tech and speed; varying degrees of internet access; and a large gap when it came to the know-how to utilize the software. One of the biggest hurdles in offering online learning was being able to ensure that every student had access to the required technology, stable internet access as well as good tech support in case things went awry.

The pandemic ushered in advanced education technology faster than it might have otherwise occurred, but it also highlighted just how different the levels of access and knowledge are across our nation’s schools.

Technology has been gradually making its way in the classroom, with the desire in recent years that digital books and digital assignments could take the place of worksheets and textbooks while also giving students a plethora of information literally at their fingertip.

But for many schools in low-income districts and regions of the country, such progress has been much less as there hasn’t been money to spend on the technology and the support resources necessary for it.

The digital divide has been growing for years but thepandemic fast-tracked its progression. As of Sept. 2, 2020, 73% of the 100 largest districts in America have chosen to go completely online, which affected over eight million students.

The results found that in spring of 2020, 36% of low-income students couldn’t complete their schoolwork because they did not have access to a computer, which compared to 14% for middle-income and 4% for the higher-income students.

This digital divide has created a lot of attention when students were forced online and has gained special attention. In April 2020, 59% of parents with lower incomes who had children in school would likely face obstacles such as: lack of reliable internet at home, no computer at home, or needing a smartphone or tablet to complete schoolwork.

Without basic internet service, students can’t “attend” online classes, or even complete homework assignments.

It was also shown that in a 2015 report that “35 percent of lower-income households with children in school didn’t have a broadband connection at home.

Is technology producing smarter students?

Today’s youth is growing up with vast amounts of technology all at their fingertips. Since educators are trying to evolve using more technology in the classroom the debate about whether or not this technology is impacting students' learning has been a question for a number of years.

“Just because the information is available, doesn’t mean that students know how to find it and use it appropriately,” Davis explained. “For instance, I’ve spent a lot of time explaining how to use databases and basic programs that students could have easily googled how to use them, but it never occurred to them to look,” she added.

Research has shown that even though society is growing in a never ending technological world, the incorporation of technology helps motivate students to learn. It is also understood that this technology enhances learning and engages students.

Research professors in the Online Journal of Educational Technology published findings examining the impact of technology on learning and found that in general it is making students more intelligent. Despite many people worrying about the negative aspects of technology, this report found that the use of technology is making us more intelligent because we are able to obtain the information we are searching for and are able to interpret and process that information faster than we ever have.

This journal article is important to understand because it breaks down the findings and methods in order to produce the results.

“Increased implementation of technology will increase students’ comprehension of content and development of skills in such areas as analytical reasoning, problem solving, information evaluation, and creative thinking,” the article stated.

The article added that, “technology plays an important role in facilitating learning. It has facilitated many effective educational methodologies such as self-directed, independent, and collaborative learning.”

Technology alone may not make students smarter but it seems as though it assists in learning for all students.

“I do not think technology is the cause of students being more or less smart,” Case said. “Students may not be being taught at home, the curriculum is not meeting the needs of students, and there are so many societal changes that factor into this. If technology is used properly and intentionally, I believe it can elevate a student’s learning”

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