Parenting in the Digital Age: Technology in the Classroom – Pt 1

by Samantha on April 23, 2012


Can there really be “too much of a good thing?”

Apparently there can be, according to the educators in South Korea.

A recent Wall Street Journal article shed light on the country’s decision to cut back on the amount of in-class digital technology exposure that the students would receive. Originally, the South Koreans had proposed a mandate that would see all classrooms in the country completely digitized by 2015. While this plan may have started out well, the resulting effects on children who were under this educational regime appeared to be less positive than originally expected. Perhaps not surprisingly, the kids started to rely on the technology a bit too much, at least more than what was anticipated.

The resulting decision to cut back was based on the students’ (ironically) increasing reliance upon technology as well as the concern that the decrease in the use of physical objects such as textbooks would have an adverse effect on the children. Apparently, kids in this part of the world were becoming considerably addicted to the internet as well as their plethora of technology gadgets that were part of their day-to-day existence. For this reason, educators and others saw the need to cut back on the in-class digital tools.

If you think that the South Korean experiment with technology is not something that needs to be worried about because of the country’s distance to North America, think again. Florida has implemented a similar policy to the Asian country’s decision with a mandate that all paper-based textbooks be eliminated by 2015, at which time learning in schools would be completely technologically-based. It’s probably safe to say that Floridians are not the only educators with this in mind.

Technology in the classroom is here to stay, there is no doubt about this fact.

What now becomes the question is whether or not its presence is a good thing, and if so, to what degree?

Full disclosure: for the record, I support the use of technology in schools, as I believe that the advances in this area provide so much more opportunities to children than were previously available, even as recently as ten years ago. That being said, there is a fine line that exists between what is useful in the process of learning, and what is excessive and, in some instances, downright damaging.

Some areas that need to be considered when making the decision about the scale and amount of technology in classrooms include the following:

  • Access  – There must be an equal opportunity for access, both inside the classroom and out, in order for all children to get a fair shot at learning through specific technologies. For example, those with access to computers, the Internet, tablets such as iPads and similar tools will have more of an advantage regarding their home-time interaction via such technology than those children that do not have the same opportunities for learning
  • Special Needs - There needs to be a specific curriculum that is medically and scientifically proven and tested to support and facilitate learning and education for children with special needs
  • Degree – How much technology will be used and how often? Is there a consensus about the amount of learning that is done via tools such as iPads and otherwise, and how will this type of learning be integrated with more traditional learning tools, if at all?
  • Bricks and Mortar – Building on the above point, how do we feel about the idea that physical books and conventional learning tools are going the way of the Dodo? Are we ready to concede that the new educational and learning models don’t necessarily include physical textbooks, reading books, pencils or paper?
  • Cost – Depending on the particular school board, there exists the problem of unequal access to specific tools, which presents a number of issues and potential problems when determining who gets what. As well, the new model needs to be intensely reviewed to assure that a two-tiered system of  “haves” and “have nots” will not result in this new reality

The world has dramatically changed in the digital age and classrooms are just one area where the line has been drawn in the sand. This is particularly the case when one looks at the reactions and expectations of parents regarding both the curriculum that is being taught to their children, as well as the particular tools that are used to teach. In some schools, the idea of “BYOD” – Bring Your Own Device – is in full swing, to mixed reactions. As noted above, there exists the issue of accessibility and affordability for all students, but there also exists the ongoing concern about whether this type of learning is indeed a valid support to a child’s progress, as well as whether or not the conventional route of textbooks should be completely supplanted by digital technology.

So the lines have been drawn in the sand and the battle continues: the old guard that wants to protect the tried and true conventions that have delivered some of the most brilliant intellectual minds of yesteryear and today vs. those who believe that progress is best achieved using a “sure thing” – in this case, a textbook and/or otherwise. Ironically, one of the greatest minds of our time, Albert Einstein, was an outspoken opponent of technology. One of his most famous quotes illustrates exactly where he stood about the subject:
“Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.

It’s crystal clear upon which side of the fence this genius stood.

What side are you on?

Coming up next: Parenting in the Digital Age: Technology in the Classroom – Part 2

Previous Post: Parenting in the Digital Age: The Medium is the Message

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Image courtesy of www.techvibes.com

Image courtesy of www.businessinsider.com

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Meryl Neiman April 24, 2012 at 12:42 am

I’m in favor of technology in the classroom, but think it should be used be care, especially in the early grades. Nothing beats hands on learning with actual hands! and self-directed play with actual other children! Kids are already so desk bound and play restricted that I wouldn’t want technology to be used to further limit childrens’ freedom to learn, play, and explore on their own terms.

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Samantha April 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm

That’s the dilemma that we’re all faced with at this stage of the game, isn’t it Meryl? It’s certainly a fine balance between providing children with the tools that will help them learn and grow, yet limiting these same tools enough so that they are not too distracted. Definitely a challenging task.
Thanks for commenting!

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rkogucki April 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Remember, Einstein died in the 1950′s and did his seminal work before 1910, so he really knew nothing about digital devices, let alone ipads and smartphones. I think the only issue here is equal access to devices. ipads, etc. are just new tech. Books were new tech at one time too. Books cannot compete with the ability of devices to find information relevant to a person’s learning experience while they are actually learning. Nor can they compete with various media and fora that digital devices provide. If kids are fooling around too much on the internet, then it needs to be restricted. A kid doesn’t need the internet to fool around, I managed it with television, comics, etc. when I was a kid. There seems to be a retro-luddite movement regarding old tech like books. I hear phrases like, “I miss the smell of a book, the weight of it in your hand” and other such musings. That someone would want to forgo what new tech offers for the smell of a paper book needs to move into this century. I think there is a certain “cool” imagined by those with these atavistic tendencies, attached to hanging on to an obsolete thing like a paper book. I wonder if they would have not used the telephone, automobiles or computers when they became popular. Oh wait, they had to use a computer to get their thoughts on line. ;)

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Samantha April 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm

You’ve raised some interesting points, Rick. I especially like your use of the term “retro-Luddite” ;) Equal access is definitely something that needs to remain top-of-mind if school boards are to continue with their plans on digitizing the classroom. I sense that there is the possibility for unequal access that would be detrimental to a large segment of learners due only to their lack of funding or resources. We need to remain diligent about making sure that this does not happen.

Regarding the idea that people like the tactile experience of reading a book, I must admit that I’m one of those folks. Sure – I love the latest technology and gadgets that are out there and will continue to be a “geek” of sorts, but is it really a bad thing to want to hold on to items that we have cultivated as both part of our personal memories as well as our societal culture for hundreds of years? I find it interesting that some folks are willing to “turn the page” – both literally and figuratively – on paper books altogether. Are they really so bad? Yes, they are weighty and yes, it is so much easier to carry around a Kindle or Kobo, but not all remnants of older technology – in this case books – are necessarily bad. We shouldn’t be so ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater in my opinion. Paper books and technology can coexist; it doesn’t have to be an “either/or” proposition.

Thanks for your insightful comment.

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rkogucki April 24, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I need to add an addendum. I don’t believe in education only being digital. We evolved to use our senses and manipulate our environment using our brains. Children still need to do this, and they need the social environment, and a teacher to develop properly. I’d never argue for an education that solely consisted of a kid in front of a screen.

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Samantha April 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Now this I agree with. We shouldn’t be so ready to head down the technological path to the detriment of our children. As I mentioned in my last reply – let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

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Nicole April 29, 2012 at 3:08 pm

No one has brought up the issue of how this technology is impacting our kids’ health. Wireless technology and Smart boards are being taken out of some schools and public buildings in Europe due to concerns over the high levels of electromagnetic radiation being consistently emitted in the classrooms. A group of students in Ontario have come forth doing an interview with 16:9 discussing how technology has caused them health issues. Check it out ~ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN7VetsCR2I
Something to think about!!!

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Samantha April 30, 2012 at 3:04 am

A topic that should definitely be part of the discussion about how technology is affecting our children, for sure. It’s a slippery slope when we start discussing the physical effects of this technology and the possibility that perhaps we may have to remove access from schools. As much as many of us don’t want to admit, we’re very reliant on what it offers to ourselves and our children. To this end, many say that the jury is out with respect to whether or not Wi-Fi really does cause physical harm. It will be interesting to see where this goes and whether we will see a shift in the use of Wi-Fi and otherwise in our schools. Somehow I don’t see this changing but I could be wrong.
Thanks for the link and for your comment :)

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