Technology in the classroom – does it make a difference?

This thread is not exactly on the topic of programming, but considering many, if not all, of the programming teachers I know are involved in the school technology debate or support it seemed relevant.  I do believe programming in the school is directly affected by the school’s philosophy regarding technology.

I have a K-8 principal that is a big technology in the classroom fan.  He is trying to pressure his teachers into using more technology in their rooms.  Of course his definition of technology is a bit fuzzy, his staff has little to no technology training, there is not a whole lot of technology available in their classrooms and there is no money earmarked for technology purchases.  These are minor, somewhat solvable, problems.  OK, maybe not so minor, but they are solvable.  My questions to my huge and avid reader pool are:

  1. Is there any conclusive evidence that technology in the classroom has improved the average student’s ability to learn?  
  2. Does a Smartboard (or other like devices) make a difference in how well a student learns, or does it just change the method of presentation? 
  3. Would students learn better if they all had an iPad?  Is there proof one way or the other?
  4. Is there evidence that a 1-1 laptop ratio has improved learning in the regular classroom?
  5. Should students have a Google Docs account so they can collaborate on projects?  (“Collaborate” seems to be a real big word in education circles now-a-days.) 
  6. Our K-8 is still following a fairly traditional curriculum.  In that environment would technology make enough of a student improvement to justify the expense?
  7. Applications like Moodle allow better communication between the teacher and the student but does this actually improve student learning?

For years there have been discussions regarding the use of graphing and algebraic solver calculators in math classes.  Do they really improve the understanding of the mathematics they are being used to solve?  I have seen so many pro and con papers that I no longer pay attention to the debate.  After 30 odd years of calculators the vote seems to be still out.

One of our history teachers has started to use Youtube extensively.  He regularly shows History channel movies on the particular topic of study.  Prior to Youtube he had to purchase videos and spend quite a bit of time locating the snippets of interest.  This particular use of technology has brought something into the classroom that was difficult or not previously available.  In this instance I would believe the use of technology may have improved student learning just for the fact that student interest is increased.

Technology in the classroom is expensive, and not just in the initial purchasing of the hardware.  To justify the expense it is usually necessary to train teaching staff, re-write curriculum to get the most out of the technology, and ensure there is an adequate support staff.  I see a lot of articles from companies promoting technology in the classroom and of the interesting (and expensive) things schools are doing with technology, but is this actually improving the student’s skills in math and science, and preparing the students for the university?

I am a big fan of technology but I cannot let my very unsubstantiated opinions influence how we spend our very limited school funds.  At the moment when a teacher asks me for some particular piece if technology, I ask them if they are planning on re-writing their curriculum to incorporate this piece of technology.  I always get a blank look in return.  I have a math teacher that uses a projector and eInstruction Mobi pad extensively.  He teaches from the back of the room (no longer the sage on the stage), records his board work with Smart Notebook, and posts his notes on Moodle.  It has taken him three years of writing and practice to get a system that works for him.  The time invested in his curriculum and methodology re-write has been and continues to be fairly extensive.  His opinion is that the method has improved the students’ learning.  He does not have test scores to prove this but he does have over 20 years teaching experience that allows him to make this seat-of-the-pants call.  I think I can go with this.

Most technology is not plug-and-play into the curriculum.  It takes a lot of commitment from multiple people to make the expense justified.  Is it worth it or do we have to do it no matter what the cost just to keep up with the world?


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