Prepared by guest blogger Ellen Wexler.
The use of technology in the classroom will end up either ushering in an era of extraordinary new possibilities for learning or delaying children’s intellectual development—depending on which of the authors cited in the list below you listen to.
Students at the Washington State School for the Blind would most likely argue the former. When algebra teacher Robin Lowell had to move away from the school, The Columbian recently reported, administrators did not want to lose her as a teacher because someone who is qualified to teach algebra and to work with visually impaired students is relatively rare. The administrators’ solution resulted in both Lowell and Sherry Hahn, the school’s digital research and development coordinator, earning their places among just 21 educators honored by Microsoft for using technology in the classroom in an innovative manner. Lowell now teaches her class using a Microsoft videoconferencing tool that allows her to lecture students from 170 miles away, connect with other technology that delivers content to students in Braille and audio formats, and collect her students’ work digitally. Her school also now accepts students who log in for classes from hundreds of miles away.
For Lowell and her students, technology is an enormously useful tool that can extend the limits of experience—and a number of new books back up this idea. Some other new releases, however, discuss potential consequences of depending too heavily on technology and suggest that when considering how to incorporate technology into students’ learning environments, we must, at the very least, proceed cautiously.
New Releases in K-12 Education Technology:
Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom, by Marc Prensky (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), argues that “the symbiosis of human and machine is better, and wiser, than the human (or machine) alone.” If we are willing and able to use technology effectively, Prensky explains, then technology can enhance and expand our minds in a manner that nothing else has ever accomplished.
Social Media for School Leaders: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Most Out of Facebook, Twitter, and Other Essential Web Tools, by Brian J. Dixon (Jossey-Bass, 2012), speaks to an audience of educators and administrators about how social media can foster engagement and communication within a school community. It explains how to use specific social media platforms and offers instructions for school leaders on how to structure a school website, write a blog, or create online student portfolios.
Cool Tech Tools for Lower Tech Teachers, by William N. Bender and Laura B. Waller (Corwin, 2013) is geared toward teachers who are struggling with technology’s complexity, and aims to teach them in understandable terms how to use technology to structure classroom activities and maximize student engagement.
But, according to Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young Children, Technology and Early Education, by Susan Linn, Joan Wolfsheimer Almon, and Diane E. Levin (The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Alliance for Childhood, 2012), there are numerous negative consequences to too much technology: delayed language acquisition, sleep disturbance, childhood obesity, and stunted social development, to name just a few. The book focuses on younger children and cites research showing that exposure to technology has no tangible benefits for infants and toddlers. It discusses young children’s brain development and explains how, “for better or worse, repeated behaviors—including behaviors such as watching television, playing video games, and playing with phone apps—can become biologically compelled habits.”
The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning, by James Paul Gee (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), is a warning against how easily technology can be misused to further current shortcomings in education. According to Gee, a large-scale problem is “why humans care so little about evidence, truth, and the wellbeing of others,” and digital and social media may foster this problem by “duping and manipulating people in the name of profit or ideology.” He argues that education needs to increase drastically its emphasis on objective analysis and factual evidence as a means for navigating our world, and technology can either help us achieve this goal or act as a stumbling block—which is why it’s critical that we make a conscious effort to learn how to use it correctly.
A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.