Data, critics question value of technology in the classroom

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 6 2011 1:34 p.m. MDT

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Over the last five years, more and more classrooms are becoming tech savvy. Students across the nation are getting iPads starting in kindergarten, many classrooms are equipped with laptops for every student and Smartboards (or electronic whiteboards) are also becoming a must-have.

But a report by The New York Times this weekend questions the value of such technology.

The article started out describing a school in Arizona lauded by the National School Boards Association as a model of success. The students there have laptops in their classrooms and blog and Facebook about their assignments. The paper describes the scene as going "far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices."

But although the students in this school district have had new technology at their fingertips since 2005, The Times reported that state test scores have stagnated in the district while the scores for the state as a whole have moved up. In fact, the paper has found no trend over the last decade that shows that technology in the classroom improves test scores, and in some cases, test scores have fallen.

The story also mentioned that while spending for technology has gone up in the Arizona school district, the schools in the district have had to up class sizes and cut out courses like music, art and P.E. And the district is planning on asking local voters for $46.3 million in taxes over the next seven years to keep up with technology.

"Critics counter that, absent clear proof, schools are being motivated by a blind faith in technology and an overemphasis on digital skills — like using PowerPoint and multimedia tools — at the expense of math, reading and writing fundamentals," The Times reported. "They say the technology advocates have it backward when they press to upgrade first and ask questions later."

Educators are also afraid that these kinds of devices in the classroom may distract more than instruct.

But the use of technology in classrooms is anything but stagnant. ABC News reported last week that more than 600 districts in the U.S. have bought iPads for at least one whole classroom of kids, and two-thirds of these districts started implementation of the technology this year.

Educators say the use of the iPads allows their students to immediately send in homework and quizzes and lets students view videos and tutorials on different concepts being learned in classrooms, according to the article. They have also been lauded as extremely helpful for visual students and to students today "who've grown up with electronic devices as part of their everyday world," the outlet reported.

One writer for ZDNet, a business technology ezine affiliated with CBS, said while he believes there are certain technology tools given to classrooms "that add no real educational value but take a nice dent out of taxpayer wallets," he does believe "the potential exist(s) for kids to learn in new, engaging ways that prepare(s) them for real-world challenges and manage(s) to better differentiate instruction so that every student could be better served in our public schools."

He goes on to say that he does not believe standardized tests measure accurately "the intangible skills that students acquire using technology" like collaboration.

"Standardized tests, all too often, measure students' abilities to take tests," he wrote in an article this week.

To read more about how experts think technology will impact schools, read "What will school look like in 10 years?" by The New York Times.

EMAIL: slenz@desnews.com

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