No matter how big technology’s role in the classroom becomes, there is one component of learning that it can never replace: teachers. Even the most technology-driven learning methods, such as on-demand and virtual training, still require a teacher to be involved in some capacity. After all, someone is behind the computer screen; someone is the backbone of program development. Still though, the relationship between teachers and technology is becoming increasingly entangled. What is the right balance between teacher and technology and how can instructors—and administrators—make choices that will best serve the needs of learners?
While digital and non-digital teaching methods are both critical to successfully prepare students for a 21st century world, there may be power for teachers in purposefully disconnecting at times. Unplugging from technology can give learners the chance to experience uninterrupted interpersonal interactions, which with technology, can be a rarity. These interactions can be valuable in the form of group work, discussion, or healthy debate.
Considering the role of technology in our society, the sense that technology should always be on—that it always enriches experiences—is not surprising. However, while teaching and technology are entangled, they do not have to be so closely tethered to each other that learning cannot occur without it. Technology enriches traditional learning methods, but unplugged learning methods still work—perhaps surprisingly, even to teach technology. For example, Digital Schoolhouse, an organization supporting “inspirational computing for kids” out of London, makes resources available so that teachers can teach coding concepts to their students – no computers required. On their website, they provide “Playful Computing” resources, which teach coding concepts through board games, word games, painting, playdough, and more.
As the conductors of the learning environment, teachers need to play an active role in determining when technology might aid instruction, and when it might serve as a distraction. The question for teachers to come back to isn’t whether or not to use technology, it is more distinctly when and how to use it. What’s important for instructors to remember, amidst hesitancies, is this: Technology is there to serve their needs, not the other way around. As Paula Dillon, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Barrington, R.I., wrote for eSchool News,
“Technology can be exciting, and with that excitement, it is easy for me to understand why there is a misconception that technology alone has the capacity to improve educational outcomes. We must remember that technology is only a tool, and we cannot expect a tool to provide the panacea for all that is not working in education.”
Incorporating technology into the classroom is a delicate operation; technology’s presence alone doesn’t result in efficacy. Thus, teachers should not be expected to find the most effective balance. While experimentation can be productive and is a natural way to identify what may and may not work, school systems can still act as a source of support. As a result, evaluation of digital tools should be directly addressed through professional development. Programs should be designed to help teachers answer the question of which use cases are appropriate and effective, and when. Again for eSchool News, Dillon writes:
“In particular, schools that are increasing access to technology should offer differentiated professional development that empowers teachers to integrate technology into pedagogy and build their capacity.”
The bottom line? It takes teachers to teach, but technology can—and should—boost traditional teaching methods and enhance relevancy. It’s a balancing act. Technology and human interaction can both lead to impressive student outcomes, but it’s the working marriage of the two that optimizes teachers’ and students’ paths to success. As teachers integrate technology, they should carefully consider the extent to which technology is used, the purpose behind its use, and how it interplays with the analog learning environment—and school systems should actively support them along the way.
1. “Are schools really wasting money on computers?” eSchool News. November 19 2015.
2. “Decoding Learning: The Proof, Promise, and Potential of Digital Education” Nesta. December 11 2012.
3. “11 Tech Integration Tips to Share With Your School” eSchool News. November 18 2015.
4. “Virtual and Augmented Reality in Surgical Training: An Interview with Dr. Shafi Ahmed” News Medical. January 28 2016.
5. “Rural Schools Bridge Digital Divide” The Times Herald. January 10 2016.
6. “Playful Computing” Digital Schoolhouse. 2012.
7. “How The Education System Is Leveraging Innovation and Technology To Help Students Compete” Forbes. February 4 2016.