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Old-school or new age: Is technology a distraction in education?

Tue, 7th Jun 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

I recently read with interest about a top school in Australia banning laptops in classrooms, citing the reason that technology was distracting and diverts from old-school methods and quality teaching. Although I can understand where this line of thinking stems from and hesitate to completely dismiss this notion, I believe it's also vital that we understand the purpose and absolute relevance of technology in education. So let's consider both sides of the argument.

Developing familiarity with various programmes, learning typing skills and putting thoughts into a digital medium are just the basics when it comes to the use of a laptop. Conversely, unless access to the internet, gaming programmes and other distractions are removed, students may not be able to resist temptation to play around and get easily distracted during lessons. However, I believe that it's not so much the use but the presence of the laptop or tablet in the classroom that may present a distraction, particularly when students are anxious for breaks or the next lesson. Here's an interesting way to think about it: Imagine that you were in a meeting and your mobile phone is on silent. You receive a call or a message mid-meeting, how much effort does it take to ignore peeking at the caller info or message preview? If you struggle with this distraction as an adult, it's going to be pretty challenging to expect that of school-age children albeit with less impulse control!

Should we go back to basics?  When we refer to technology in the classroom, it is most certainly not limited to laptops. It can be any tool which promotes collaboration and learning – be it a tablet device, video conferencing, or digital whiteboarding. These tools and applications may have once (and perhaps still!) been considered distractions in the traditional sense, but are now opportunities to foster learning among new generations.

With the proliferation of technology throughout our lives, many are suggesting that schools need to go ‘back to basics'. To make best use of technology in education, it's really important to determine its purpose in a classroom and consider several objectives. Is it meant to be a teaching aid aimed to enrich content and engagement of presentations? Is it meant to provide access to more information at a student's fingertips? Can you engage with subject-matter experts and peer groups to enhance your lessons? Are you encouraging students to collaborate more freely with online study groups and other schools?

The fact that technology is so prevalent in our daily lives should not be the reason why we go back to basics. If the reliance on technology in classrooms was to change, it has to be for the right reasons – mainly that its use and presence is not meeting its purpose or goals, or is adversely affecting learning outcomes.

Perhaps the “basics” that we should be returning are the fundamentals of lesson design and learning outcomes. If schools are attempting to deliver lessons and educate students using the same or similar methods with the addition of technology, it is unlikely to be the most effective model. Which is why at Polycom, our approach to applying technology in education begins first with offering familiarisation and lesson design to our education customers. It isn't sufficient enough to just deploy technology such as video and content collaboration in a classroom; educators and administrators need to evolve teaching styles to complement technology – and truly embrace and believe in it – to create even more impact with students.

Technology brings positive change in the classroom A broad spectrum of education institutions – from schools to higher education colleges and universities – are actively investing in technology, to the point of it being a competitive differentiator. The walls of the traditional classroom are crumbling and making way towards a more collaborative and equitable approach to education through MOOCs, flipped and blended learning, and distance education programmes, made possible through the availability of technology such as streaming and recorded video lectures, online collaboration tools, and real-time instant messaging access to lecturers and tutors.

Educators are constantly bombarded with a plethora of technology and new apps.  For teachers and administrators, knowing what to choose and when to apply these in the classroom can be confusing. It can also be easy to get caught up in the “shiny object syndrome” with new technology.

The use of technology should be driven by what will make teaching and learning better and what will give students the applied skills they will need in the workplace. As an example, Gippsland Trade Training Centres has wonderfully integrated technology to enable the delivery of education equality over vast distances. Video collaboration solutions were integrated into classrooms and practical workshops within the participating educational facilities. By incorporating video collaboration solutions in classrooms and practical workshops, students can remotely connect with vocational teachers who may be on a farm or in a commercial kitchen, hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres away. Often the instructor wears a mobile, on-person camera, so the students are able to see exactly what the instructor is demonstrating, and programmes can be delivered across the two Gippsland regions using video connected classrooms.

Bring Your Own Balance (BYOB)

Much like education models across the world are becoming increasingly personalised to the learner, the curriculum, management and style of instruction amongst institutions within a country or even a state can be very unique.

Perhaps the top institution's ban on laptops was the right thing to do for their specific profile of students and educators. It does not (and should not) mean that a ban is the right move for every school. A CompTIA study revealed that 9 out of 10 students indicated that the use of technology in the classroom will be important to help them prepare for a digital economy. Clearly, there also is goodness to be harnessed from integrating technology in the classroom.

There is a role for everyone, in preventing classroom technology from becoming a distraction. Administrators and IT departments can restrict access to the internet at the appropriate times, teachers and lecturers can better integrate technology into the learning process and parents can monitor school-related app and device usage at home.

Technology as a whole – laptops and devices, collaboration tools and learning applications - should be assessed as enablers which help promote and improve learning, keeping the students of today more engaged. Having a thorough strategy to plan, assess and manage these technologies based on the current and future needs of your school or organisation, is probably the best way to ensure a balance of technology immersion and the right learning outcomes.

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