Can Technology Transform Education?
With the influx of EdTech products entering the K12 market, is technology living up to its potential? We explore the role of technology inside the modern classroom.
It’s nothing new that digital tools and technology are transforming the educational space. With ongoing innovations such as blended and virtual learning, flipped classrooms, BYOD, digital assessments, and gamification, the modern-day classroom is a far cry from those of previous generations. While it may be hard to predict what the schools of the future will resemble, the ever-presence of technology-based learning is hard to miss. But is all this technology entering the classroom living up to its full potential?
Dream a Little (Digital) Dream
According to the Teacher’s Dream Classroom Survey by Edgenuity, the answer is no. The survey, conducted to better understand the use of technology in the classroom, showed significant results in the link between classroom technology and learning success; yet only 16% of the teachers surveyed gave their schools an A grade for technology integration, with over one-half (53%) giving their school a B and nearly a third (31%) giving their schools a C grade or lower.
The survey also revealed links between technology and student engagement, with results indicating that 91% of teachers agree that “Technology provides a greater ability to teachers to tailor lessons and homework assignments to the individual needs of each student.” These ties also appear when considering teacher success: 80% percent of teachers who rated their schools highly believe technology helps them achieve their objectives; this percentage decreases in conjunction with falling integration grades.
While the survey revealed important links between the use of technology and classroom success, there is still a big gap between what technology can do and what it is currently doing. In an article written by a teacher and educator Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, she writes, “The reason why I am often so frustrated with technology: educational technology is often just something else we have to juggle, rather than something that we can help create in order to ease our burdens . . . Usually, I integrate technology for technology’s sake, rather than because it truly transforms my experience as an educator or my students’ experiences as students.”
With this being the reality for many educators, it would seem that while we are focusing on bringing bigger and better technologies into the classroom, we mustn’t forget the ‘why’ of it all: learning.
Once upon a time, administrators and teachers had few options in choosing print learning materials for their schools. However, the last few years have seen a steep rise in EdTech products entering the K12 sector. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2016 National Education Technology Plan, technology must not only be used but used effectively. Since 2010, the US has shifted its mindset from asking, “Should technology should be used in schools?” to “How can technology be used in schools to improve learning?”
But we still have a long way to go. In this new mindset, the burden is placed on teachers to learn how to use these products and find ways to use the technology to support student learning. But is this really happening, or is technology being utilized as just a learning “prop?” According to Conrad Wolfram, CEO of Computer-Based Math, “We’ve got a complete confusion about the reason for technology in the classroom. The technology is being dumped in the classrooms without [administrations] either helping the teacher with the process of learning or more importantly, helping the teacher with a new curriculum that actually lets them use the technology for the subject.”
At its full potential, technology can help learners tackle ideas in innovative ways; help personalize learning by creating engaging experiences; create relevant, real-world learning; offer flexible learning tools to meet the needs of a range of learners; create co-learning environments within and outside the classroom and more. Yet the digital use divide continues to create a separation between active learning, in which technology is used creatively to support learning, and passive learning, in which technology is used for passive consumption. This is the reality for many schools that don’t have access to training, technology, or data to support them in closing this digital gap.
Classrooms of the Future
So what does the future of classroom-based technology look like? According to the NETP, schools must ensure “all students understand how to use technology as a tool to engage in creative, productive, lifelong learning rather than simply consuming passive content.” In this new model, learning would be unscaled with a ground-up approach and created from inside the classroom. “Teacher-preneurs” would create classrooms of collaboration between technology, teacher, and student to focus more on individual needs instead of the masses, to “ultimately generate the kind of positive, revolutionary change that has escaped top-down planners.” A change would occur from classroom to school to district and beyond, instead of the old top-down paradigm with change trickling down from educational organizations and government policy. Echoing Lamb-Sinclair’s sentiment, the change-makers are the teachers because ultimately, technology is an agent for educational change within the classroom.
Bridging this digital divide requires more collaboration between learners, teachers, and school officials, as well as the willingness to re-assess what technology means. Schools must be willing to step outside the norm to create education systems that put pedagogy first and integrate technology into the curriculum to support and enhance learning. As Eric Sheninger writes, technology should be “a powerful learning tool in the hands of our students — not a digital pacifier.”