Technology in Schools; the Good, the Bad, the Nitty Gritty.

Take a moment to think about the amount of years a fresh teacher will teach from graduation until retirement. For simplicities sake, assume that this is forty years. Every year, new students come in, and if a teacher works for forty years with twenty-five different students each year. At the end of each year, these students will have (estimated) two-hundred pages of notes. Add report cards, quizzes final exams, scrap paper, possible textbooks, distributed readings and so forth and it is safe to assume that this page count can be brought up to four-hundred. There are approximately 8,300 pieces of paper per tree. Doing the math of (semesters) x (years) x (students) x (pages) equals out to 800,000 pieces of paper over a math teachers’ career. That’s approximately one-hundred trees used to teach a class per teacher career. It’s important to note that most teachers teach multiple classes a semester (usually three to four). This means that in a teachers’ career, they will be personally responsible for the death of hundreds of trees. Multiply the number of teachers around the world, and a serious problem (along with interesting questions) emerge. How can a teacher reduce the waste from their teachings? Can educators teach in a paper-less environment? Is the tried-and-true method of paper and pencil due for an upgrade? What else can change in the education system, and how we teach? And the question the paper will be examining is using technologies in classes (specifically in Social Studies classes) to create and teach more comprehensive and complete content and skills.

Technology is rapidly changing and is more accessible and useful to students, teachers, and the general public. Teachers, parents, administration, and students are all beginning to see the useful aspects that technology holds, and thus are beginning to integrate it more into schools and their personal lives. Yali Zhao shows in his study that in 2005, 99% of schools in the US had a 5:1 student to computer ratio (2007). Nearly a decade later, and the ratio is as high as 1:1 in many schools. Zhao quotes students as being “born and comfortable in the internet and technology,” but with teachers this is less of a case. It is at this point in the paper that I stray from the formalities of paper writing and insert some narrative and structure changes. I first shall examine the pros and cons of using technology for the students and the teacher.

Students Pro

  • Most students have multiple access points to technology (library, home, cell phone, in class computers/laptops/tablets, computer labs)
  • Technology has the ability to turn student thought ‘boring or irrelevant’ content into hands-on learning by analyzing, creating, and allowing students to be as creative as they are able
  • Students and their teachers are able to keep up at home, when absent, or with substitutes
  • Real world practicality with researching, analyzing, summarizing, and presenting
  • Access to knowledge and resources (such as virtual tours, skype interviews, and so forth)
  • Less intimidation by a textbook and stack of papers (Griggs 2010)
  • Opportunities to individualize and express oneself better
  • Increased student inquiry (Griggs 2010)

Students Con

  • Some students will not have personal or home access to technology
  • Students may not have the knowledge how to use technology properly
  • Chance to abuse programs or technology
  • Too much change can be frustrating and intimidating
  • Students are becoming “wired for distraction” (“5 Bad Technology Habits Teachers Can Fall Into” 2014)
  • Critical thinking issues and expectance of quick results (“5 Bad Technology Habits Teachers Can Fall Into” 2014)

Teachers Pro

  • Ability to maximize time, creativity, and resources
    • Examples such as doing PTA over skype to increase participation and accessibility
    • Establishing online blogs, interactions, and communities
  • Summarize and express content, skills, and values more effectively
  • Technology can make a subject hands-on (“5 Bad Technology Habits Teachers Can Fall Into” 2014)
    • Students using animation software to recreate the Lincoln assassination (Griggs 2010)
  • Non-technological literate teachers can be easily taught in workshops and PD conferences
  • Teachers were positive during PD training and workshops; using tech more often (Zhao 2007)
  • Large support system in the online community (twitter, skype, online journals, and so forth)

     Teachers Con

  • Some teachers have a lack of experience and training of apps, software, and technology
  • Classroom management concerns
  • Low teacher confidence in technology knowledge or skills (Griggs 2010)
  • Policy bans on websites or certain content
  •  Not using technology or using tech “as a crutch” (“5 Bad Technology Habits Teachers Can Fall Into” 2014)
  • Using dated, clumsy, or inefficient technology
  • Easy to assume that students are competent in technology

Once teachers were trained with how to use technology in the classroom, they “expressed positive experiences with technology integration training, increased their use of technology in the classroom, and use technology more creatively” (Zhao 2007). An important note to remember with technology use and integration is that when teachers use too much, ineffective, or no technology at all, it can do more harm than good (“5 Bad Technology Habits Teachers Can Fall Into” 2014). When used properly, the benefits can be reaped; in Griggs’ dissertation, he deduced from sample groups that students with technological integration (when used properly), that student inquiry and skills increased. His studies found that:

“Overall, participants were highly supportive of technology integration and willing to use emerging technologies in their presentation of world history content. Barriers to technology integration include lack of funding, lack of adequate access to technology, and lack of confidence among students and teachers in using technology.” (114)

Teachers need to have a good reason for including technology in their instruction and assessments. Teachers need to have a reason for using these tools such as saving time, improving learning outcomes, helping lesson plans, or anything else. They need to be thorough and well planned, and they need to be willing to adapt, change, and collaborate (“7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Who Use Technology” 2013). When attempting to integrate technology in classrooms and control groups, studies found that teachers were knowledgeable about old and current technologies and were often successful in integrating into classrooms (Griggs 2010). One fault that Griggs found in his research is that pre-service teachers are lacking training, knowledge, and confidence when it comes to integrating technology and mostly when they are forced to teach without it.

The struggle with technology is that current supporters of it sometimes may push too hard for its support and put a wedge between non-users and supporters. Teachers also need to learn to balance the technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge in their instruction. It’s a fine balance between these three and too much can poison instruction. Several of the studies I read all state the same thing, that pre-service teachers need more training in general teaching:

Michael Shriner, Daniel Clarks, and Melissa Nails’ study concluded that:

“pre-service teachers’ perceived levels of competence and confidence in teaching social studies without technology assistance… the majority of pre-service teachers reported low competence and even lower confidence in their ability to teach social studies effectively, especially with regard to textbook utilization, resource acquisition, and instructional strategies.” (37)

It does appear that the experts are finding issues with pre-service and current teachers. The good side of this coin is that teachers were easy to instruct and motivate once shown a conference or PD on technology. Within five hours into a conference, teachers were able to learn how to find virtual field trips, how to insert hyperlinks, text, pictures, video, and even put audio of them recording a narrative of the tour. Within ten hours, teachers were also able to create electronic templates and plan lessons for students to create virtual field trips “to build social studies skills and content knowledge into inquiry-based lessons (Shriner, Clarks, and Nails 2010). Skills gained through self-inquiry are much better than presenting with powerpoint and lecturing. There are a limitless number of apps and programs for students to express themselves and inquire into interesting material, but we as teachers cannot take their knowledge for granted and group students together as all-knowing in technological literacy.

Teachers need to teach students about proper sources and how to find them, as well as how to think critically and read between the lines. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation states that students are much more likely to become distracted than remain on task (and at home, one in three kids are using tv or the internet for recreation while doing homework), and that many teachers believe this to be a problem (“5 Bad Technology Habits Teachers Can Fall Into” 2014). While this is a problem, I personally wonder why we as educators and leaders are attempting to force students to subjects themselves to the boring, outdated, and ineffective lecture based system. Why can we not alter the lessons so that students’ minds are kept on short tasks instead of zoning out on long tasks?

Technology has its clear flaws, but the benefits when used properly outweigh the difficulties with it. In the studies, journals, and books I researched teachers and students, when taught with and/or how to use technology properly, there was overwhelming support and integration by students, teachers, administration, and parents. Changing how educators teach may save the forests as well as the school system.


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