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Digital learning

01 Mar 2012

I recently read an article about schools across New Zealand experimenting with digital learning. These schools are either providing every student with a laptop or including a laptop or tablet as part of the required learning supplies list at the start of the school year. For example, Mt Somers Springburn School has given every year 5 to 8 student a netbook, and the teachers say it is quickly becoming a natural extension of their learning. While I definitely agree on the importance of educating children about technology and ensuring computer literacy, I do wonder if providing laptops as the primary learning tool is the answer. Arnika Brown, a teacher at Mt Somers Springburn, explained that the devices have encouraged independence and motivation among students and that the experiment has cut down the amount of time-wasting and procrastination. "Having a laptop each means children can work independently, as well as having constant access to work they need to finish. They’re great for motivating readers, too. Students gain better comprehension, as they’re keen to do the follow-up activities on their laptops more thoroughly,” says Brown. She goes on to discuss the ways in which the netbooks have allowed students to create richer and more professional work. "We’ve been working on writing digital stories. The students are really proud of their work. They can now add moving animations and graphics. The font they want and the abundance of animations and graphics available allow them to present their work very professionally.” This is all true, but my concern is that by having students complete all of their school work and activities on the computer, we may lose an element of creativity that comes from drawing their own pictures to accompany stories and using their imaginations rather than Google. Additionally, if all assignments are being completed using a program like Word, it prevents children from having to learn adequate spelling and grammar skills (as all of these programs come equipped with spell and grammar check). I also think that although the netbooks at Mt Somers Springburn have enriched the classroom experience in many ways, they have probably also enhanced distractions among students, who now have the internet, games, etc. at their fingertips 24/7. Another concern centres around those schools that are requesting students (or parents) purchase their own laptops/tablets for class. Many parents may not be able to afford such luxuries, especially if they have more than one primary aged child. Will this lead to the less financially fortunate children being left out of the learning experience? It’s a tricky area, since it is still a relatively new one – when I was in elementary school, the only time we interacted with a computer was during computer class once a week! Times have certainly changed. And while I whole-heartedly support the efforts of schools like Mt Somers Springburn, and agree that technology needs to be thoroughly integrated into the learning experience, I’m not sure we have struck the right balance just yet.