Connectedness and Accessibility

The Internet has infiltrated every area of our lives and it is how we receive the news, communicate with colleagues, friends, and family, where we organize and catalog our ideas, and how we share ideas with the world. The days of newspapers, governments, and other authorities curating the flow of information are over.

In the midst of this digital revolution brought on by the Internet, mobile computing has providing the means by which most people now interact online. Wireless access is no longer considered a convenience factor, but instead ubiquitous wireless coverage is expected in our homes, workplaces, and classrooms. Despite this expectation, affordable, high-speed WiFi service is not universally available even in the first world due to infrastructure shortcomings in rural and lower income areas. Despite the low cost of devices, this lack of affordable Internet for many people has resulted in a digital divide between those of means and those who are not.

Information Literacy

In light of the pervasiveness of the Internet and its ability to facilitate information sharing, information literacy may be one of the most important skills of the twenty-first century. All individuals must be able to discern the authenticity and truthfulness of the things they read online. This, even above technical proficiency, must be stressed in curriculum.

Pedagogical Challenges

Anyone reading this might feel that all that I’ve said is blatantly obvious, and it is, but it seems from my studies in Educational Technology that while the rest of the world has moved into the twenty-first century, many classrooms remain chained and beholden to pedagogical practices begun in the nineteenth century, which were built to meet the needs of industrialized societies. This one-size-fits-all pedagogy remains primarily behaviorist and cognitivist and merely asks students to receive instruction and recall said information in examinations.

There have been some advancements in pedagogy, but they remain the exception as mainstream teaching practices stress teaching to the book, preparing students for standardized testing, and churning out as many graduates as the K-12, community college, and universities are able. This process to me seems to be rather mechanized and lacks consideration for the personal needs of individual students.

Technological False-start

With the advent of mobile computing, and tablets in particular, schools raced to get their hands on devices to give to students. However, just putting devices in the hands of students and making them do the same activities, only digitally, didn’t actually lead to better learning or even improved test scores. Meanwhile, the taxpayer contributed millions of dollars for the purchase of all these devices, which would later be stored away as teachers failed to see the benefit of their inclusion in instruction. That’s not to say that there weren’t successes with these programs, but in the majority of cases it’s evident that districts leapt at the chance to purchase devices without much thought of how they could be effectively be used to enhance instruction and learning.

With these ideas in mind, here are some quick thoughts on the use of technology in education.

  • Technology shouldn’t be used in classrooms simply because of consumer trends. Exposing students to cool gadgets won’t make them proficient in their use or provide educational value.
  • Accessibility must be addressed. It isn’t enough that we get devices in the hands of students but they must also be able to connect their devices to the Internet, and know how to use them. Underprivileged students will have a much harder time learning to use devices due to a lack of history with technology. By not addressing the digital divide, we risk having an even wider proportion of inequality in society after these students leave school.
  • Technology should enhance and transform learning, not distract from it. Activities should account for the inclusion of technology and not simply substitute traditional activities. For instance, it’s not enough to have students use a word processor to write a paper. Instead, students should use a platform, such as Google Docs, to write a paper, receive feedback from peers, and provide feedback on others’ papers.
  • Educators must continually reflect on their use of technology in the classroom and whether it is helping or hindering students’ ability to learn. They should seek out other educators who have successfully incorporated technology in the classroom. There is a lack of universal agreement on how technology should be used in districts; educators must develop their own means that work in their own contexts. There is easy button for this process, but rather continual practice and refinement is required.
  • Students should be allowed to have a say in their own education. Technology can help provide an environment in which students are able to explore and create their own learning by creating, organizing, and sharing what they find to be relevant. As educators, we can help facilitate this environment and by listening to students we can seek to personalize learning to fit their needs rather than our own.