Friday, April 24, 2015

Integrating Educational Technology 1: Making sense of the promise of educational technology.

Digital technology such as smartphones, Blackberrys, iPads, iPhones and Web 2.0 technologies have changed the way information is accessed and viewed. It has also changed the way education is conducted. As student population increases faster than teachers with expertise in pedagogy and practice, it is expected that education will face budget constraints in the near future. One proffered solution to this problem is integrating technology into education. Examining and accessing the now familiar cliché that education should be able to enhance student learning and teacher training and expertise is then pertinent.

In a recent paper on the “technology effect”, authors Clark, Robert and Hampton state that people have been influenced to believe technology will work when in particular they do not understand how it will work, or how to make it work. This could lead to flaws in decision making.

Education is a serious issue both in government and private quarters. The budget for education is worth hundreds of billions of dollars globally; private spending for education show how much importance it is placed in society. When one considers educational technology, you’ll realize that the promise of technology is its potential for liberating teaching from the constraints of place and time. Hence, virtual education, online learning or e-learning is being put forward with the intent of influencing both parents and educators that integrating technology in education is a cure-all for many ills that afflict current practices in education.

The question remains: can technology solve all the problems in education?

Anywhere, Anytime - Technology's edge
Credit: Jeff Peterson on Flickr
The marriage between education and technology has its roots at conception. The aim and objective of education is to enhance learning and teaching and in doing so, creating channels for information access and provision. Technology is a tool for adding value to those channels.

Technology can transform a classroom into a dynamic, active learning environment. Outdated models of teaching and learning placed the teacher as the “star” of the classroom; current models of teaching place the student at the center of learning. For teaching and learning to be equivalent, students must be active participants in their own education. The goal should be student engagement, not rote learning. Yes, technology has the potential for that. I am subscribed to www.edmondo.com, an online professional teacher learning community. The site has tools for enhancing student active learning like polls, forums, quizzes, games etc.

Technology also offers economies of scale and mass customization. An example in point is www.khanacademy.org. Maths and science learning can be delivered, instantaneously or by schedule, to literally thousands of students at the click of a mouse. Web 2.0 tools, such as Instant Messaging, have also been developed that support and enhance student-instructor communication, as well as creating communities of students for interaction and collaboration.

One key component of any educational method is the ability to encourage differentiation, or the support for diverse needs and capacities of students, through teaching and assessment, so that students are given more control and potential to deeply understand the information being presented.

There are so many web-based collaboration tools that can increase cooperation and teamwork amongst students and teachers, therefore, making teaching and learning more efficient and productive. A recent study concluded that when children play games that enhance synchrony, it makes them more collaborative and empathic. If you visit game sites like www.abcya.com as well as www.bitstripsforschools.com, a cartoon network for classrooms, you will find lots of opportunities for such.

Technology is not a cure-all to end all the ills of inexpert teaching and pedagogical practice. Without adequate teacher training in the use of technology, access to technology tools does not provide any value. That is why parents have to be careful when being sold on the idea of virtual education or e-learning.

It has been found that technology could create obsession in children, especially the use of smartphones and iPads. Rather than generating positive attitudes and enhancing the self-efficacy of students, it could end up creating a lonely, withdrawn student, who sees educational technology as a diversion from daily living. Powerpoint is a case in point. It has been denounced for its detrimental impact on “dialogue, interaction and thoughtful consideration of ideas.”

Another criticism leveled against online learning is that it makes cheating and passing easy. Answering a quiz without a teacher looking behind your shoulders, it is asserted, encourages a culture of cheating. It is also claimed that only motivated and mature students are fit for online learning, or it is possible for students in need of remediation, not for high achieving students.

Whatever the pros and cons are when making decisions on virtual education, parents and educators intending on integrating technology in their children’s learning should first of all consider what their basic objectives are. On a casual Google search, one can find lots of sites offering virtual education through learning platforms called learning management systems (LMS). The focus should be on increasing student outcomes, and not on any perceived benefits.

That brings this discussion to the second part: Integrating Educational Technology 2:Considerations parents and educators should make before going virtual.


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