• Patrick McAndrew

The Pros and Cons of Technology in Schools

I know many people who work as teachers.  It’s interesting talking with them about technology in schools.  More often than not, there are no enthusiastic cheerleaders for or against technology use in classrooms.

With regards to the pros of technology, I most often hear about its usefulness in the classroom.  History teachers can pull up videos on YouTube to showcase a historical documentary.  Math teachers have access to the latest and greatest calculation devices that exceed the capabilities of the standard calculator.  Science teachers can perform in-depth experiments with their students because of the technology that they now have at their fingertips.

Technology proves to be a great tool, and many teachers will ask their students to interact with their devices, be it an iPad or smartphone, at home during their homework assignments.  Technology can even make grading easier and much more efficient (which I’m sure all teachers appreciate).  Technology allows students to engage with subject matter in new and sophisticated ways that their parents had no exposure to.  Sounds to me like schools are up on the latest trends and succeeding out of the wazoo!

But not really.  While the push for more technology in schools comes from a good place, it does not come without its negative side effects.  Automation in the classroom prevents students from developing key critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  With the reliance on technology, students don’t need to think to the extent that they would have to if the technology were absent.  They retain less information and have greater difficulty in nurturing a strong memory and an adeptness for knowledge.

And, of course, there is the endless barrage of distraction that they encounter.  Sure, they may access their specific homework assignments online, but they also have access to the whole online world, a never-ending escape from the hum-drum boredom of the routine school day.  This causes them to be less engaged in the classroom and therefore less likely to have an appreciation for school.

So how do we find that balance?  I think back to the days when I was in high school, which was only ten years ago.  Technology was starting to make a lot of headway in schools, but this was before the iPad and smartphone explosion.  Technology was used to a certain degree.  I remember watching YouTube videos in some of my classes (YouTube was a new thing then) and using some nifty scientific equipment during a lab period.  We used those classic graphing calculators (are those still a thing?) and would use the library’s computers to do in-depth research for our English or history classes.

Looking back, this was the perfect balance.  I was fortunate enough to go to a school that had the resources to provide some technology.  The teachers were able to use it as a teaching aide and, in most cases, the technology enhanced the learning of the student.  The student was in control of how they were using the different technologies.

I think the issue arises when you provide every student with an iPad though, even if you don’t do that, most students have smartphones nowadays.  Technology in schools becomes a problem when students are accessing schoolwork through the same device that they play games on or get lost in the world of social media.  With this comes the distraction, the loss of focus, less active listening, and overall decline in retention of knowledge.

This is why I am so passionate about theater and performance.  In order to learn the essential skills that go into putting up a production, we must distance ourselves from modern technology and work intensely on the relationships of the characters within the play or scene.  Theater is learning about the world of the play and physicalizing it into a performance.  It allows us to learn material through embodying what we are learning about.  It requires us to get out of our seats and interact with each other on a human level.  In a theater class (unless we are discussing technical elements), technology is a hindrance to the work.

I think other subjects can learn from their theater departments, which are sadly one of the first departments to go when a school faces budget cuts.  My brother is a history teacher and I am always inspired at the new ideas he comes up with to engage with his students.  He holds a knighting ceremony, has taught fencing, and holds epic debates that force the students to be up on their feet and engage with one another.  THIS IS WHERE THE BEST LEARNING TAKES PLACE!

Technology is a very valuable asset and tool to use in the classroom.  It allows the students access to a wealth of information and resources that they can use to better their learning.  Especially as technology continues to advance, it’s important to expose children to all that technology has to offer.  With this said, it is essential that teachers and schools do not rely on it so heavily.  Schools must regulate technology use and realize that it must be used simply as a tool and not as the primary means to learn.  Students need to develop strong interpersonal skills and build relationships in unique and engaging ways that will also allow them to absorb the content they are being taught.  They also must gain an understanding of the relevance of the material they are learning before they enter the world.  So long as we don’t let technology control us and the educational system, so long as we make humans the focus of education, I think we will be alright.

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