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Technology: Distraction, Tool, or Both?

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

When I was a little girl in elementary school, once a month we would visit the computer lab full of Apple Macintosh Classics with small black and white screens. There was no way for 3rd grade me to know that this amazing glowing cube would be replaced by countless iterations over the next 25 years, until it could fit into my pocket and allow me access to virtually anyone and anything in a few taps and swipes. Today, seeing one of these machines sparks nostalgia… and a little snicker. This clunky, yet diminutive monolith is clearly outmatched by today’s technology. Still, this outmoded cube of yellowing gray plastic, and every other unrefined technological step along the way, prepared a generation of students for the technology-driven world of the present day.

So, why am I waxing nostalgic as I look back on the technology of my youth? It’s not exactly about the specific technology. You see, it wouldn’t be many years until I was in high school that computers were in every one of my classrooms, and even then, they were only at the teachers’ desks. So, as a 9 year old, sitting in a room full of computers and working on my own dedicated computer was a powerful experience. I remember paying extra attention to the content, which varied from computer-specific information, to math, to history. While it is certainly not likely that any student would be awe-struck in a classroom full of computers today, I would argue that technological experiences in education can still create transformative moments for students where they feel like they are getting a special glimpse into the future- because they are.

If you are reading this blog post on my instructional resource website, you are likely interested in educational technology. Like me, you may also regularly consume scientific studies related to education. The scientific studies are split on whether technology in the classroom helps or hinders student learning. As an admitted advocate of educational technology, one of my criticisms of studies that yield negative results is that they often do not account for the many variables of how the instructors are implementing the technology. I will be the first person to agree that when technology isn’t used with intention in the classroom, the results can be unimpressive, or worse, damaging. Without purpose, technology can become a distraction from learning, rather than a facilitator of it. The intention behind the use of technology must be clearly outlined in order for it to be successful.

I’m not here to tear down other educators, but rather to build them up. The most valuable educational resource in any classroom will always be the teacher. There are many reasons why a teacher may not be getting positive results from technology. If they don’t understand its value, they can’t know why they are using technology in the first place, much less how to use it with intent. The reality is that we live in a technological society, and our classrooms must mirror the real world. To deny our students these relevant experiences in our classrooms is to deny the real world outside of those walls.

To be clear, teachers need not become technophiles necessarily. In fact, after reading this instructional technology manifesto, you may be surprised to learn that I have concerns about the potential negative affects of technology upon society at large. However, I temper this skepticism with the knowledge that technology is a tool, and how a tool is used determines its affect on the user. As the instructor, I have full control over how technology is used in my classroom, for better or for worse. I choose “for better.”

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