The Role of Technology in Education: Increasing Student Engagement & Learning

Contributed By

H. L.

Assistant Principal

The Role of Technology in Education: Increasing Student Engagement & Learning

Posted in Evolving Ed | September 24, 2018

The Proper Role of Technology in Education

Too often, we allow ourselves to be dazzled by "technology for technology's sake." For example, a district might pursue a 1:1 technology program and consider it successful when a laptop, netbook, or tablet is in the hands of every student. However, simply "having" or even using technology every day does not represent an end in and of itself. The role of technology in education should be properly viewed as a means to the ultimate end objective of increased student engagement and learning.

From Enhancement to Transformation

As a practical example, consider the SAMR Model for teaching with technology. At the lowest level of the model, substitution, you merely directly replace a paper/pencil tool with its direct technological counterpart, such as students composing essays using a word processing program instead of writing it out longhand.

As you progress through the SAMR Model's hierarchy, you begin to transform classroom assignments and projects. For example, instead of all students producing the same product via word processors, the assignment could become redefined by allowing students to demonstrate mastery of standards through the creation and class use of a student-generated webquest. Now you are using the role of technology in education to explore options that are not possible with typical classroom materials and resources or via direct technological substitution.

The Potential Pitfalls of EdTech

As The Medici Team reports, the EdTech space is booming and hopes for the related transformation of education are high. However, concerns remain:

  • Teachers using technology to streamline their own work or as a direct substitution for existing tools instead of transforming lessons and allowing students to direct their learning
  • Computers and tablets, in and of themselves, not leading to improvement in student learning and achievement
  • The continuing poor performance of online charter schools nationwide

How often have you been told by sales reps that a particular curriculum package, fully aligned with state standards and complete with online textbooks and resources, is the key to improved student learning? We risk falling into the same trap where educational technology is concerned. Whether the textbook is in physical form or online, or the worksheet is on a desk or presented via the cloud, the pre-packaging is the same and can get in the way of deep classroom engagement.

At my current school, we will reach a critical inflection point this year as we approach one of our instructional resource goals of getting closer to 1:1 and implementing a school-wide learning management system (LMS). As you can imagine, meeting these infrastructure targets are greatly (and, in general, rightly) heralded in our administrative team meetings. It represents the culmination of a lot of hard work by the district technology team, other district and building leaders, and teacher leaders over the course of several years.

One worry remains for us, however: Do we plan to invest just as much blood and treasure into the curriculum and aligned professional development as we have into the infrastructure? If we don't, we will have created the very situation about which many are warning: embracing technology for its own sake instead of using technology to provide students with true voice, choice, and a wider audience for their work.

The Transformative Potential of Technology

Enough doom and gloom. Optimistic futurists believe that we are building a system that will eventually allow all education to be integrated, immersive, and to someday achieve wholesale civilization change. To do that, however, we must move beyond technology for technology's sake toward EdTech as the means to succeed in the journey.

Thomas C. Murray identified, at minimum, four key traits possessed by schools that provide improved digital opportunities for students:

  • Leadership through innovation and collaboration
  • A focus on the needs of individual students
  • Collaboration with the larger community
  • Using technology to empower students in an individualized manner

What might this look like in a practical sense? In the past, for example, a student might be enrolled in an industrial arts class where the entire class is assigned to complete a project with one set of criteria and one acceptable learning product. Effective digital schools would not only give their students digital tools to use, such as computer design software, but change the nature of the assignment itself.

Instead of telling students what the entire class will make, the project could be to design and construct "a useful household gadget." Students could collaborate and share design schematics via technology in more efficient and meaningful ways thanks to the use of the school's LMS. The resulting designs and products could be shared virtually with the representative of a local engineering and design firm and presented on a website for public viewing and comment. The very nature of the project can and must be changed, enabled and enhanced by the presence of transformative EdTech, not mere substitute tools.

New Age, New Attitudes

The current era has been termed "the second machine age" due to exponentially more powerful and personalized technology and an expected impact that will make the industrial revolution look prosaic by comparison. It promises to be different than the personal computing revolution of the 1980s and it requires new leadership attitudes to realize its full potential for your district/school. You will play a critical role in determining whether your organization views technology as the driver and stagnates, or embraces technology as the vehicle and races toward the true goal of increased student learning.

How do you feel about the role of technology in education? tell us on Twitter @Schoology.

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