Today’s students are digital learners. Often more comfortable on a computer than with a pen in hand, students spend hours on their smartphones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, and other electronic devices outside of school time. However, these same technologies have not always successfully made their way into the classroom, for a variety of reasons.
Educational Technology – The Obstacles
Obstacles to integrating educational technology in the classroom are many, including cost, teacher training, as well as ensuring that all students have access to the necessary equipment both at school and at home. While many of those concerns are valid, they are not insurmountable.
The question should no longer be whether to use educational technology as a teaching tool, but rather how can teachers integrate educational technology into the classroom in ways that are simple, inexpensive, accessible, and that help students become engaged and more successful learners?
What Does the Research Say about Educational Technology in the Classroom?
Research has shown that the use of technology in the classroom, in addition to traditional teaching methods, has measurable benefits. Integration of computers has been shown to increase student learning in basic skills and across several subject areas more than with traditional teaching methods alone.
In addition, students have been shown to learn more quickly and with more retention, and their attitudes toward education become more positive. Perhaps most importantly, “the use of computers appears most promising for low-achieving and at-risk students” (Noeth, Volkov, 2004, p.8). Essentially, students need a balance between traditional teaching methods and learning from technology.
Specific Obstacles That Schools Face Include:
Lack of Technology Resources
Getting past the most common obstacles and misconceptions is the first step toward choosing the technology that best suits the resources available, the abilities of teachers, and the needs of students. One of the biggest obstacles has always been, and continues to be, the perceived lack of resources available.
Technology use doesn’t have to mean that every student has a computer to work on at all times or even that students will have their own personal devices to use. While most school districts don’t offer the latest technology for teacher and student use, audio/visual equipment, some computers, and an internet connection are standard equipment in all schools and can be used to great effect.
Cost of Technology
Cost is always a valid concern in schools as they struggle with tight budgets. While there are certainly many useful educational programs for purchase, many websites, apps, and programs that are great for the classroom are also free. The internet is inundated with education websites run by teachers, reputable higher learning institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and others. Newer tablets and laptops come with built-in technology that include features such as digital presentation programs, voice-to-text applications, and much more.
Smartphones and tablets are multi-functional, with one device serving as a word processor, audio/video recorder, camera, GPS, translator, music player, personal library, calculator, watch, and hundreds of other devices all rolled into one. The cost of technology is dropping, making it more cost-effective than ever to implement in schools.
The Greatest Cost of Implementing Education Technology Yet the MOST CRITICAL PIECE Is…
When addressing cost, it’s important to address the need to properly plan and implement an infrastructure (bandwidth, wireless coverage, etc.) that can support the technology that will be used. Unless students can access the network, and the internet, reliably and productively, it doesn’t matter what technology they have access to.
It’s important to consider how to spend technology funds first on infrastructure to ensure the success of any technology initiative. Countless schools have implemented roll-outs of mobile devices funded by grant monies only to realize that the infrastructure in place CANNOT handle multiple classrooms using mobile devices at the same time. The video below gives a great overview of capacity planning and how to design a technology infrastructure that can support and grow with the needs of your campus or district.
Teacher Training for New Technology
Teacher training is another widely held concern. All teachers today are familiar with computers. If a teacher can work a computer, surf the internet, or even use a handheld timer, he or she can effectively use technology in the classroom. Even the most technologically proficient teacher is always behind the curve of all the new programs released every day, so trying to train all teachers on the latest technology available is unrealistic.
I urge teachers to start where they’re comfortable, and then increase or diversify the type of technology they use as they become more comfortable. Teachers are often concerned that implementing new technology will mean extra work. There can be a learning curve in the beginning, but in the long run, technology can actually help simplify lesson preparation and become an indispensable teaching and learning tool.
Student Accessibility Outside the Classroom
Student accessibility is a reasonable concern, particularly in areas where students may not all have equal access to computers or other technology outside of the classroom. A 2011 survey by the U.S. Census bureau found that 75.6% of American households reported owning a personal computer, and 71.7% reported accessing the internet at home, a number that has been rising steadily.
Although disparities continue to exist between ethnic groups, that gap is also narrowing. For households with children between the ages of 3-17 years, 83.2% report living in a home with at least one computer. These numbers don’t take into consideration the use of smartphones, e-Readers, or other electronic technology (United States Census Bureau, 2013).
Smartphone use in individuals 25 years and under stood at 87.5% in 2011 (United States Census Bureau, 2013). Therefore, while unequal student access to technology outside of the classroom remains a concern, the percentage of students without access to any internet or computer technology at home is continuing to fall.
In addition, there are ways to ensure that even students without a computer or internet access at home can still participate in classroom activities. In fact, I would argue that for those students in particular, learning to be comfortable in a digital world is a life skill they should be learning at school if they are not being exposed to the online world at home.
Fitzell, Susan. (2012). Technology tools for teachers. Retrieved from: http://susanfitzell.com/articles-by-susan-fitzell/technology-tools-for-teachers/
Fitzell, Susan. (2013). Best, new strategies for using iPads®, mobile devices and other cutting edge technology to strengthen English/Language Arts instruction. Manchester, NH: Cogent Catalyst Publications.
Noeth, Richard J., Volkov, Boris B., (2004). Evaluating the effectiveness of technology in our schools, ACT Policy Report. Retrieved from: http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/school_tech.pdf
United States Census Bureau. (2013). Computer and internet use in the United States: Population characteristics
(THOM File, May 2013, P 20-569). Washington, D.C. Retrieved from: http://www.infrastructureusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/p20-569.pdf
For more information about using technology to strengthen instruction, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Using iPads and Other Cutting Edge Technology to Strengthen Your Instruction.