At TASIS we often consider when, why, and how to use technology. By technology, I mean instructional aids (internet, apps, software, learning platforms) and individual technology (smart phones, computers, calculators, software programs). Of course, these questions are not new; as a math teacher in the 1980s, I wondered how much time should be spent on doing calculations by hand versus the (very basic) handheld calculating machines of the time (which, by the way, cost more than most laptops do today). Like most things, we subscribe to moderation and necessity. Technology is a tool, unless learning to operate the device or software is the learning goal.
Technology use in elementary school – both by teachers and students -- needs to be carefully moderated. There must be a reason to use it, and the reason must coincide with the identified learning goals. When we ask whether students should use iPads and computers rather than pencil and paper, for example, the answer depends on what we want students to learn.
There is no doubt that our world is increasingly immersed in technology. We utilize it without much forethought. It makes our lives easier, helps us accomplish tasks faster, and makes society more efficient. Except when it doesn’t.
At this point, I could dive into research enumerating the ways technology has affected the mental and physical health of our youth. Or I could opine on the need for students to be exposed to and trained in the use of technology for the fast-changing world of work. However, I’d much rather focus on the utility of technology – specifically, how our teachers and students use it and when. Full disclosure: I am a math- and science-trained educator who generally believes technology will be at the heart of the solutions our planet needs to survive many of the crises we face now and in the future.
However, as my father used to say, you need to select the right tool for the job. When you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
Learning to Read
Take, for example, the task of teaching children to read. There are numerous media to use for reading these days: online, e-readers, iPads, or good old paper books. If teachers are attempting to provide students with visuals (graphics or videos) or asking them to read in order to learn a new skill or procedure, online media can be very useful. I think about how I often seek home repair advice online with the accompaniment of video support. However, if we want students to remember information, use their imaginations, and become immersed in the subject matter, books still reign supreme. Recent research strongly suggests, due to many variables such as distraction and skimming, that books help students retain more information. (For more detail, refer to the 2018 meta-analysis research by Delgado,P., Vargas,C., Ackerman,R., and Salmeron,L. )
The Role of Technology
There are schools where device usage is kept to a minimum or is nonexistent. There are schools where students use an iPad or laptop throughout the day. We believe in balance. Students need to be exposed to different devices, learn how to use them, and become responsible digital citizens, because those tools can assist their learning. At the same time, we do not believe that devices should direct classroom learning. We want students to learn how to use the right tool for a task and make that tool available to them. Our teachers understand this well. Although they are all tech savvy and have interactive panels, iPads, and robotics in their classrooms, they first ask themselves whether the technology will assist learning before using it. They ask their students to answer the same question.
Most recently and due to unprecedented circumstances, teachers and students have been asked to adjust to learning in online classrooms. This has challenged both teachers and students to learn new technologies and to adjust their learning styles to this new paradigm. The results of this experiment are not yet known and will vary according to teacher proficiency and expertise. However, there is no doubt that some of the best parts of remote learning may stay with us.
At TASIS, we will implement technology to provide opportunities for rapid feedback and reflection, allow for resources and information to be easily shared, and help our students prepare for a technology-laden future. To that end, we embed computer coding and computational thinking in our curriculum. But we do so thoughtfully and consciously, not out of convenience or a desire to create a shortcut.