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Allowing Technology to Find its Place in Education

Technology has become an intrinsic part of our lives.

As we use it for everything from banking to shopping, it’s vital for children today to be digitally literate; just as we must have literacy and numeracy skills, so do we need computer skills.

The variety of tech available means that we also have the Internet of Things (IoT), which is the connectivity between our devices by means of the internet. Thus, your child’s smartphone or tablet is a powerful device not limited to the hardware encasing it.

Not only do children need to know how to proficiently use tech, but they also must understand how computers, the internet, AI, and IoT technology works.

To do this successfully, we must blend traditional with modern learning methods.

Blended learning incorporates traditional face-to-face teaching methods and tech delivered content, such as multi-media products. It is on the rise as studies show how beneficial it can be for students.

However, it’s not just the delivery of an education through technological means that needs research and implementation: it’s the teaching of creative computational thought, too.

If we encourage the teaching and learning of computational thinking, we can create conditions for creativity towards tech. Adding this to the curriculum would provide children with important tools early on in their education.

Nevertheless, technology can be a hindrance if used improperly, which is when the same tech that can be used for education is instead used for entertainment. It is from this area, it seems, that fears of it are born. 

The Concerns of Tech in Education

The main concerns about tech in the classroom include access to social media, which can be less of an online playground and more of a battlefield when you consider how cyber-bullying and fake news can spread.

Though not all children will have access (unlimited or otherwise) to social media through gadgets at school because of effective firewalls, they might have games loaded on to devices that can be distracting. In these instances, a child’s concentration can be affected by it.

Added to such distractions, there’s also the risk of the passive intake of material, i.e. watching videos in class of how something happens instead of experimenting in a lab or doing it outdoors.

These concerns aren’t unfounded, especially while children are still improving their skills of restraint and self-discipline.

According to Sara Mohammed, Ph.D, at The Learning Accelerator[1], “unlimited or improper use of technology can be harmful”, as it would be in any aspect of our lives. It is when unlimited access to tech replaces real life interactions that it can cause problems with attention, or even cause damage to the retina.

Denying children tech to lessen the risk of improper use, however, would bring with it many losses, including the benefits tech can bring to education.

The Benefits of Tech in Education

As stated, tech itself isn’t the problem or issue: it’s how it is used, and how frequently. Not only does improper use of tech plague education, but it can affect other sectors too; thus, solutions can be similar.

According to Dr Mohammed, “Studies have shown that technology can help learning, especially for students who would not otherwise have access to certain learning experiences. Technology can make personalised, mastery-based, data-driven learning possible for each student”.

Typing needn’t replace learning to write with a pencil, and screen time can be minimised with the use of games, robots, and tech toys, which also function to teach computational thought. Multi-media products can fill the deficit where traditional schooling methods can’t, which is where blended learning takes places. Children will still learn what they need to, but with technology they can have enhanced learning experiences tailored to their needs. For instance, the stronger student in class will have access to materials which challenge them at their own pace, and extra resources to supplement the core material can be available for those who need them.

Distinguishing between tech in class and computational thought is vital. It’s not enough for education to have infrastructure without expanding the curriculum to contain theory and practice in computational thought. Furthermore, there is a risk of schools adopting tech just to have it, without instituting change in what content is learned and how students learn it.

In response to whether children need more access to screens and technology, Dr. Martin Ebner[2] of the Graz University of Technology argues that “the main goal is to make the youth more responsible towards technologies, more fit to a digital future”, and educating them towards “computation thinking skills”.

The effects of this would be a generation of schoolchildren who understand how computers work.

Computational thinking involves problem-solving through decomposition, which is when you learn how to solve problems by breaking them down to smaller ones, knowledge of algorithms, pattern recognition, and so on in this area.  It seems the problem isn’t so much about screen time as it is about skill practice. Dr. Ebner explains that the same conceptual practice can come in the form of games and robotics, not just tablets and interactive whiteboards. Being presented with tech and knowing how to use it is one important aspect of IT in education, but learning to be “creative towards the use of different kinds of technologies” is the next step, according to Dr. Ebner.

Technological progression could be more enhanced when new generations have been part of its development since childhood. 

Allowing Tech to Find its Place

If technology is to be maximised and enhanced for educational settings, it means we should focus on teaching computational skills through blended learning. It’s not enough to have tech-equipped classrooms; we need to have task-driven tech where creativity is encouraged.

The risk that tech can be used for entertainment rather than education should be obvious, yet it’s entirely avoidable. The teacher’s role in the classroom is like the principal’s role in the school; deciding to what extent the different technologies will be used, and how often. Teachers can use software to see what the students are using in class and monitor it, while principals can ensure their security restricts access to certain areas of the internet.

For it to have an effective place in our classrooms, the experience of using tech needs to be dynamic and spread across different platforms, incorporating multimedia products. In other words, a blended learning approach. Vitally, the encouragement of experimentation towards it – and creativity with it – will ensure students today are digitally-minded for tomorrow. If we can create spaces for creativity towards tech, the internet, and AI, we’ll be better-equipped to introduce new generations to our tech-based world who, in turn, will be better-prepared to thrive in it.