Catching up with the times

Graphic by Katie Brioux
Graphic by Katie Brioux

The first time I saw a laptop in a classroom, it looked like it weighed twenty pounds and the noise from the fan and keyboard was unreal. I was tempted to physically assault the person who owned it, but I was also curious about the benefits of using that technology in the classroom.

Twelve years later, technology has improved leaps and bounds, and bringing a laptop to class in order to facilitate the learning process is second nature for many. Unfortunately, learning often takes a back seat to social media and distraction kicks in pretty quickly.

That’s why it’s time for professors to not only embrace the technology that is at their disposal, but to integrate it into lesson plans by engaging the students who use it.

More technology doesn’t mean more distraction: the issue is reform. Schools have been using the same approaches to teaching for a very long time, and they are having a hard time adapting to rapid, technological advances that put powerful tools in the hands of students.

It’s time to leave the Norman Rockwell classroom, which consists of wooden desks and pencils, behind.

A recent study conducted by Concordia researchers found that classrooms which embraced computer technology to support teaching had a “small to moderate positive” impact on learning.

While this may not come as news to you, the 40-year retroactive study makes an important point: it is time to re-conceptualize the classroom and take advantage of the tools that are available to teachers. Consequently, an increase in participation and engagement from students will lead to fewer students drifting away during class time.

They key is integration. Students are suffering from information overload these days, and professors need to find ways to use that to their advantage. Last November, B.C. Education Minister George Abbott took steps to rectify that. He announced a new teaching plan for the province that aims to modernize schools and “promote personalized learning, critical thinking and quality teaching,” according to the Vancouver Sun. He is promoting a greater use of tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices to assist learning in the classroom.

Abbott’s reasoning behind this decision was simple: integration. “Often we will lose students in Grade 9, 10, 11 because somehow we don’t connect with them on what their real passions and interests are,” he told the Sun.

Faculties at the university level have to promote the same kind of reform. Technology can be used in so many different ways, from helping to explain complex biological concepts to deciphering psychological issues. Encouraging new ways to integrate students and their laptops into lesson plans would facilitate the teaching process; failing to do so risks leaving students behind by not latching onto their interests.

As it stands, computers in classrooms are not being used to their full potential and because of our limited attention spans, it’s very tempting to jump onto social media or YouTube for a quick fix. It’s not technology’s fault; our values are different than the previous generation’s, and we live in a time where many of the jobs today simply didn’t exist a generation ago. By shunning technology, professors are doing a huge disservice to students who have already brought the tools to the classroom: now, it’s a question of using it properly.

The Concordia study concluded that teaching aids such as PowerPoint presentations didn’t really affect how students learned. “It’s not really different from a blackboard or an overhead projector or a printed page,” said Richard Schmid, chair of Concordia’s education department, to The Gazette. He said that technology had an impact on students when it actively engaged them as a communication tool and used for simulations or games that “actively manipulate their environment.”

These interactive environments would also allow boys, whose brains are more spatially-oriented than girls, to really harness the technology.

As with any new teaching reform, it’s important to set rules of acceptable conduct. Engaging thirty to fifty students at a time isn’t easy. While I certainly do not advocate replacing skilled professors with computers, I think there needs to be a greater cooperation between the two in order to get students to participate as much as possible.

Computers are just one solution, but we can’t forget interactive whiteboards, tablets and digital media.

Look into the future: Do you see classrooms full of paper and pencils? Probably not. Technology is ubiquitous. It’s time to prepare our students for what lies ahead.


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