As time marches steadily forward and the technology around us continues to push its way more deeply into our lives, both personal and professional, the question of how to best educate our population is raised over and over again.
With the shared understanding that, whether welcomed or not, high technology is currently making its place known in schools of all varieties, educational administrators and decision makers are hard at work debating the benefits and potential drawbacks of the digital classroom.
Old Technology, New Technology
While we typically use the word “technology” to refer only to cutting-edge computers and other electronics in modern parlance, the word just as aptly fits common classroom amenities such as books, desks and blackboards. Despite the fact that it is safe to assume that there was at least one teacher wringing their hands in fright at the prospect of the introduction of a blackboard into the classroom, history shows us that new technologies have been introduced into teaching environments with great success for thousands of years.
For example, the ancient Egyptians understood the need for students to record their studies on clay tablets for reference and classical educators in the Middle Ages embraced the abacus when teaching simple mathematics; while neither of these technological gadgets ranks near an Apple iPhone in overall complexity, the learning curve for both teachers and students is much the same as is being faced today.
The digital classroom is here, boasting technological gadgets and methods that are already having an effect on students and teachers alike but there is no reason to assume that the classroom will provide less value to either group for their presence. 10 years ago to take a cpa course you had to go to the college or library, while today you have an instant access to iPad app, eBooks and free community for group learning and mentoring.
The Evolving Information Ecology of the Classroom
Teachers in today’s schools, from elementary through post-secondary, have certainly had to adjust their educational styles to make way for the new tools and ideas being introduced by school system administrators and students themselves.
From mobile phones to internet-connected computers in the classroom, the future of teaching and the opportunities it presents has never been so bright – or so worrisome.
A Balancing Act
One of the most pressing issues facing those teaching in a digital classroom is what has been dubbed “attention retention”; that is, the ability of the teacher to hold sway over their students in the face of the distraction presented by some modern technologies.
Where a tablet computer in the hands of one child is an advanced note-taking tool, in the hands of another it is often a virtual chat room and it is up to teachers to make the best use of the tools at hand while simultaneously limiting the amount of brain power being spent in wasteful areas.
Engaging Students Here & There
One of the biggest boons presented by the era of mobile technology – and, coincidentally, also one of the most overlooked – is the ability for students to take learning presented in the classroom home with them. Many schools around the world have begun providing students with laptop computers that are meant to be transported daily between the classroom and the bedroom in order to help the student discover continued learning opportunities even when away from the primary learning location.
Some schools, from as early as the elementary level, have gone so far as to design and develop applications meant for use on students’ smartphones, offering not only school schedules and general information but also interactive platforms which allow teachers to share information with students at any time.
While there are very real challenges to be faced as we work towards turning our classrooms into digital learning centers, technology, as a whole, is being quickly embraced by educators, administrators and students alike. With fantastic new teaching opportunities and the prospect of enticing students to embrace learning as not only a daily chore, but a lifestyle, the digital classroom that has been both created by and forced upon us promises educational benefits for all, now and in the long term.