There was a time when the tools of education were simply a piece of chalk, a blackboard and the input of a teacher. Except from lessons from older or obstinately traditional lecturers, today it would be rare to be taught without the aid of some of the various technologies available. From the display of multimedia that complements lesson material to programs that allow easy communication with other learning centres across the globe, technology has greatly affected the way we learn as well as the roles of the teacher and student.
In schools and universities, technology is ubiquitous; it is so commonplace that we do not tend to notice it. When we actually take a step back to consider, however, it is obvious that technology has had a massive impact on education. Consequently our generation is learning in an entirely different way to previous generations. As we shall see, technological advances have made learning easier and more interactive while providing us with a source of endless information at our fingertips, but this upheaval has not come without disadvantages.
Through devices such as SMART boards and projectors, instruction can be supported and illustrated with video, images and audio, which make classes significantly more memorable and help students retain information better. These devices also add an interactive element – data can be easily manipulated on screen in response to the progression of the lesson so that students feel more involved. Computers allow work to be saved instantly for future access and can store vast amounts of data without the requirement for physical space, as evidenced by ebooks and journals. Online learning networks such as “duo” provide a means for sharing work quickly with teachers, aiding assessment and evaluation. Educational software and online courses often feature feedback systems whereby students’ responses are commented upon, immediately telling students which areas of work they need to improve or revise– almost like having the teacher there with them when revising or completing assignments.
But these are the more obvious effects. There are far more subtle consequences of the advanced technology in learning centres. Firstly, there is participation. Young people who have grown up with technology enjoy using it, and being able to use a computer to do research and work encourages them to learn, as has been observed in multiple ACOT studies (1). Futhermore, the genius of many modern educational computer programs is that they are designed to hide the fact they are designed for such a purpose – young children will not even be aware they are taking in knowledge or skills. Also, with so many digital tools available, children have more ways to express their thoughts and ideas – something which can be hard for certain youngsters. A great deal of time is saved by bypassing menial tasks – word processors have decreased the worry about spelling and presentation, and the introduction of calculators has reduced time spent carrying out routine and tedious computations. The very roles of teacher and learner have transformed. Where teachers were once strict imparters of facts and knowledge, they are now guides who select the best resources. Students, in turn, have become more responsible for their own learning.
In fact, it can be said that education and technology are symbiotic; because of the ubiquity of technology in teaching environments, students have had to adapt and learn to be competent with technology. Thus, knowledge of technology has greatly increased. However, this does have drawbacks – the older generations are at risk of being left behind with their lack of technological knowledge, so it can make it harder for adult learners to return to education. Poorer students who cannot afford computers and other devices can also be left behind. Furthermore, learning under the influence of technology has changed our perspective from a local one to a global one, as we can connect with people all over the world, enabling distance learning, but this style of education doesn’t allow equal opportunity to work on oral communication skills and online students can feel isolated.
A study by Kulik (2) exposes many other drawbacks. Firstly, students are becoming overly reliant on the internet for information, plugging study topics into a search engine without consulting books and other sources, which puts them at risk of using incorrect or biased data and seems a lazy option in comparison to thorough, diverse research. Secondly, plagiarism is becoming rife due to the amount of work freely available on the internet, so much so that plagiarism checkers have been created and are now used routinely in universities.
Although it is certainly true that technology has greatly changed the way we learn and improved education, it has posed a fair few problems. That said, new technology has been developed in response to some of these issues, such as the plagiarism checkers. Who knows what the future holds – in years to come, lectures and lessons may become obsolete as we will be taught by our teacher through interactive video links. We may one day look at today’s educational environment of SMART boards, the internet and the likes as equally as primeval as yesterday’s chalk and blackboards.
1) ‘Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow’ (ACOT) as described in ‘Technology assessment in education and training’, E.L. Baker, 1994
2) ‘Effects of using instructional technology in elementary and secondary schools: What controlled evaluation studies say’, J.A. Kulik, 2003