Technology use aids learning

Gonzalo Baeza (Flickr)

Technology usage in an academic environment is a contentious and controversial business. From high school down, it is almost nonexistent. With the dawn of the camera phone already several years past and the explosive rise in texting among youth, the twin demons of cheating and copying are jumping to the front of many teacher's minds.

But as a new generation of tech-savvy kids enter the classroom, teachers are, with few exceptions, struggling to keep up with the diverse devices and methods arrayed against them. Texting during class, photographing tests and digitally “collaborating” on homework have generated a massive controversy among educators in recent years, with no end in sight. Nearly every student carries around a smartphone or an unlimited texting plan, leading many teachers to throw up a white flag and ban technology of any kind completely.

Amidst all this talk of cheating and the potential for academic dishonesty, no one seems to have given much thought to a simple and very important idea: technology may be beneficial to learning.

Despite the hubbub over cheating and similar pleasantries, some teachers already incorporate technology into their course work. Almost all teachers maintain websites where they post assignments and updates, and several use a reminder system provided through an outside company, Remind 101, to text reminders to students' phones. A few of the more technologically advanced classes post lectures online as podcasts, as well. These are vast improvements over the olden days of the chalkboard and a rapid turnaround from the time the school opened in the fall of 2000, when there was only a single computer lab and wireless networks were in their infancy. Since that time, a select few classes decided to make the switch to being an entirely digital experience.

The Career Technical Education (CTE) programs, including the photography and graphic design courses, administer and collect all assignments digitally, using a server-client architechture. Every student has a designated computer workstation that connects to the CTE server, where they can pick up and turn in tests, assignments and projects, all without so much as a single sheet of paper. It also allows for a far more rapid rate of progress with the subject.

“The work flows a lot faster and we cover a lot more material,” Photography 1-2 teacher Kathryn Strevell said.

The benefits apply to more than just classroom efficiency.

“Record-wise, we're able to keep quite a bit of it. I keep the entire semester worth of work digitally, and it takes up very little space,” she said about the system.

Additionally, students gain hands-on experience with an all-computer work environment, a vital skill in a world where most businesses are computer-based and many are almost entirely paperless.

“The future isn't going to be a lot of hard copies,” Strevell said.

So why not go paperless?

 “Even though they say it's paperless, it's not. Because you can't trust it. Even though everything is in the computer, we don't dare start school without having a printout of their schedules, because what if it goes down on day one and we can't find out where the kids are supposed to be?” counselor Beverly Lewis said.

Paperless system aside, even fairly minor incorporations of technology into the classroom are beneficial and educators are taking notice. Recent studies, such as one cited by USA News in a July 2011 article, show significant increases in student productivity through innovative technology use. Even something as simple as interactive presentations over Google Docs significantly improve classroom workflow and engage students in the process.

Despite meeting with staunch resistance from many of the more academically conservative teachers, technology in an academic environment is gaining ground, and the benefits are clear: productivity, efficiency and above all, student engagement. Whether it's a media-rich powerpoint or interactive web assignments, students' stereotypically limited attention spans are receiving a boost and teachers are beginning to recognize the myriad of other benefits as well. Technology is here to stay, and its encroachment on academics, if handled properly, is a good thing.

- Bryant Morrow, Staff Writer and Photographer 

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