Laptops are everywhere in the classroom. College students routinely use laptops and tablets to take notes and download textbooks. In recent years, technology has entered the public school classroom. What are the benefits and drawbacks to this trend? Explore the pros and cons with The Benefits of Technology in the Classroom (and Some Big Drawbacks).
Are There Benefits to Technology in the Classroom?
Some education observers note that technology in the classroom is both inevitable and necessary. Children will face a world filled with technology and an expectation that they’re computer literate.
Some studies have found that so-called one-to-one programs, where every student has access to a laptop during class, can lead to improvements in reading and math scores. This trend is particularly noticeable among students from low-income families and those who speak English as a second language.
Technology Doesn’t Work Without Teacher Involvement
Even in cases where laptops in classrooms provide benefits, it’s important to point out that teacher involvement is still the most important variable:
As one study noted, “Teacher buy-in is critical. Technology alone does not improve students’ test scores. In Birmingham, Alabama, where the one-to-one program was introduced by the local government with ‘almost no funding or support for curriculum development or teacher professional development’ and little input from teachers, the program failed. Computers in classrooms went largely untouched, became unusable without IT support and the program was abandoned after three years.”
Is Technology Taking Over?
An article in the Wall Street Journal found that some parents are growing skeptical of the value of computers in the classroom:
“To Dr. Boyd, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, it looks more like a videogame than a math class. She isn’t sure if the lessons are sticking with Jane and worries about the hyper-stimulating screen time.
“‘I feel like my kids have been part of a huge massive experiment I have no control over,’ says Dr. Boyd, who also has two sons aged 13 and 15. Liam, the younger son, began learning on screens three years ago and Graham, the older son, began learning on them four years ago.”
Where Technology in the Classroom Lets Students Down
Research from the past few years has found that the increasing reliance on technology for learning is starting to show negative effects.
Using Devices Is Distracting
A 2017 study at West Point found that computers in classrooms were a huge distraction. They didn’t improve test scores, and they often led to students using them for things unrelated to studying.
As one teacher explained in an article in EdScoop, “I know as a student I could be distracted when I had my computer. And I know it can be distracting, honestly, for me as the instructor. This study is nice, because it provides evidence there’s a negative effect.”
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was even more blunt. In a 2015 report, it concluded that, “Education systems which have invested heavily in information and communications technology have seen ‘no noticeable improvement’ in test results for reading, mathematics or science.”
The OECD found that countries whose school systems limited computer time in class had much higher scores than those that relied on laptops and other technology.
Too Much Screen Time
Many parents are struggling to limit their children’s attachment to phones, social media and other forms of online engagement. To these parents, seeing their children exposed to even more technology at school is frustrating.
In an article for TeachThought, teacher Nira Dale expressed the frustration shared by teachers and parents:
“The widespread prevalence of technology in American schools, often known for changing at a glacial pace, has been jarring for large numbers of parents, teachers and administrators, many of whom were big proponents just a few years ago.
“The school devices are undermining parents’ struggle to limit screen time. They say their children find ways at school to bypass their schools’ internet filters and can find their way onto YouTube exposing them to X-rated and violent content. They can kill time in class by shopping online or playing games.”
In some classrooms, students only use their laptops to take notes. Why is this a problem? As it turns out, the old-fashioned style of taking notes produces better learning and better thinking.
Researchers believe that writing notes by hand is crucial to processing information and integrating it with what we already know. According to a 2013 study in Psychological Science, the research outcome is clear. Using laptops reduces the ability to learn:
“In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”
Reduced Reading Time
A 2018 article on the results of widespread laptop use in a North Carolina school district found mixed results for the project.
Years after introducing the laptops, the students had the same test scores as those in a neighboring school district that didn’t issue laptops. The study also reported that students who used laptops showed a marked decline in the amount of reading they did.
“Mooresville didn’t gain any benefits from using laptops in the first three years,” the study found. “Modest gains started to emerge in 2012, four years after the district began its laptop program. In year five, the only sustained benefit was in math.”
Ready to Escape Your Classroom?
Job descriptions and school reform movements all hail the power of multitasking. In reality, the presence of electronic devices is a distraction that hinders our ability to focus.
In a 2013 interview with National Public Radio, psychology professor Richard Nass put it bluntly: “The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits. They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”
Are students who use laptops multitasking? It seems that many of them are. They are very likely using the laptops to do school work while also listening to music, texting their friends and playing games.
Should We Limit the Use of Technology In the Classroom?
Is there a way to integrate technology in the classroom that doesn’t have negative effects? This is a question school districts are likely to continue studying. It might be time to ask if they’re causing more harm than good.
As Nira Dale wrote, “Technology doesn’t teach, teachers do.”
One Thing Too Many
Are your a teacher who’s just “done” with the increasing expectations of technology use in your classroom?
Have your decided it’s time to plan your escape?
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Ready to Escape Your Classroom?
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