Technology is very cool, but…
Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of technology and I believe that computers, the Internet, and other digital devices are changing the way that we do everything. Today’s new generation are increasingly computer savvy and their abilities often far exceed their parents and teachers. There are some definitive benefits to technology being used in a classroom setting and it is likely that computers and other devices will be used all the more as time goes on. However, it is not necessarily wise to assume that technology itself will cure all of our concerns. There are still many other ways to educate students and it should not be assumed that the laptop is the end all and be all of educational existence. Here are a few thoughts on the use of laptops in the classroom.
Laptops do wonderful things
The benefit of a laptop is that it gives the individual student easy access to information and multiple methods of delivery. One of the most profound benefit is access to databases and the Internet. With relative ease, students can access broad amounts of information such as data and informative articles. In addition, they can see visual information such as pictures, maps, and charts.
Laptops do not do everything
The difficulty with the laptop is that it does not do the work for the student. A student still needs to learn how to write well, think critically, and understand how to effectively research. One of the laments of educators is that students today go straight to a website like Wikipedia and use it as a sole source of information. The Internet is vast, but simply having access to it does not mean that the student will utilize it properly. Wikipedia is a good example because much of the information is not adjudicated but students treat it as “truth” anyway.
The other issue with laptops is that they can be a distraction. It is naive to assume that students use technology strictly for educational benefit. Computers are very powerful tools, but humans can also be like birds who are drawn to shiny objects. Laptops are that “shiny” object. The laptop on the student desk may turn into a glorified jukebox and instant messaging box. Granted, some of this can be controlled with classroom management, but some teachers have a hard enough time dealing with students without the distraction of laptops. Also, some schools use the laptop as a sort of “eye candy” that make them look more technological. Without thorough training or guidelines for use, many teachers may not be able to utilize them effectively.
Powerful, but pragmatic
Overall, technology will continue to dominate society. However, it should be used with reason and sensibility. Sometimes people get the technology first and try to fit it to the process, rather than establishing the process and then using technology to enhance the outcomes.