Are Digital Devices The Future Of Education?

New Technology Provides Benefits Along with Inequalities

Originally posted in the fall 2011 edition of The Leader

As technology becomes more popular and affordable, states and schools districts have the choice to adopt the use of technology in the classroom to enhance traditional education.

The demand for online textbooks and interactive classroom components is high among students and parents, according to a survey conducted in the fall of 2010 by Project Tomorrow. The survey, called Speak Up, examines the ways technology has been mixed into traditional education and the opinions that students, parents and educators hold about it. A key finding of the survey describes parents’ heightened support for the infusion of technology in education as their desire to be involved in their children’s education increases.

Results of the survey reveal that parents and students alike support the integration of online resources in the classroom. One-third of high school students report they regularly use an online textbook, and two-thirds of parents think the use of online textbooks would be a helpful investment and would purchase a mobile device for their children if permitted in school.

According to an Associated Press article, more than 600 public high schools have launched experimental programs in which at least one classroom will provide each student with an iPad to use during the day. In the article, Patrick Larkin, principal of Burlington High School in Boston, says he thinks iPads are a good long-term investment for education because they are constantly being updated with current events, and online access provides students with relevant resources and real-time feedback.

Online textbooks presently account for about 10 percent of the textbook market. According to a recent Washington Post article, however, a new Florida law will require schools to spend half of their budgets on digital resources by 2015.

The current generation of students grew up during the birth of the technological boom, so many students have a basic understanding of how gadgets like the iPad work. Textbooks must be replaced every few years so that updated versions are available for students, while digital devices can be easily updated virtually. Schools may end up saving money if they convert to online textbooks.

Digital devices would surely make students’ lives easier, too. Carrying a backpack full of many pounds worth of textbooks can be tiresome. Digital devices weigh far less than a pile of textbooks and their batteries can last the full day, so student loads are lighter. Replacing traditional textbooks with online alternatives would make it easier for students to keep everything they need on hand.

According to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called “Using the Technology of Today in the Classroom Today,” teachers can use free online tools to boost student involvement. Some high school courses require students to maintain Facebook accounts and follow a class page to keep up with classmates after hours. This is an easier method than exchanging contact information with other students. Groups of students can have an online conversation about a project or test and benefit from each other.

The study also highlights the value of blogs. Like Facebook, students can communicate outside the classroom and bounce ideas off each other. Teachers can provide additional resources for students to use no matter the time of day.

Carrying a backpack full of many pounds worth of textbooks can be tiresome. Digital devices weigh far less than a pile of textbooks and their batteries can last the full day.

For Internet usage to be successfully integrated with teaching, educators would need to create boundaries between social and academic uses. Although Internet resources and digital tools could provide students with distractions and temptations, when used correctly, they have the potential to be successful education tools.

“If digital devices and online sites are to be incorporated into today’s classrooms, the prevailing notion that these devices and sites are only for social use will have to be re-examined,” said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. “Our survey showed that digital devices and online content have a place in the classroom when used in tandem with traditional instruction.”

The technological revolution is still young and many are concerned that the nation’s education system is diving in too quickly. The iPad and other devices have only been on the market for about 18 months, and many administrators and educators think all possible glitches must be worked out before incorporating their use in the classroom. Introducing these expensive tools into classrooms would be quite an investment—one that schools should be sure of.

Another major issue present in the nation’s classrooms is the distribution of wealth within districts. Studies show that students in wealthy districts are exposed to a better, more comprehensive education. With more opportunities to excel, these students already are ahead of students in lower-income districts.

Paying for technological advancements is out of the question for many of these lower-income districts.Even if a lower-income school received funding for technology, many children in these districts may not have access to a computer or the Internet once they leave school. To compensate for this divide, schools still would need to provide textbook equivalents for students in need.

While states and school districts that strive to provide students with the newest technologies may have good intentions, equality in education should still be a leading priority. Creating a divide between the nation’s students by using or not using technology in the classroom does not level the educational playing field. Although new technologies in the classroom can enhance students’ learning experiences, states and school districts need to take into account the whole picture before unintentionally putting certain schools, and thus, students, at a technological disadvantage.