Ben Davis is a School Reform Blogging Fellow.

Accessing and sharing knowledge has never been easier or faster than it is today. Take Wikipedia. Using the English Wikipedia alone, anyone with an Internet connection has near-instant access to an encyclopedia more than 2.5 billion times larger than Encyclopedia Britannica, the next largest encyclopedia.

Given the advent of all things digital, it’s only natural to hear teachers—who make their living sharing knowledge—ask themselves: How does – or should – our digital overload spill into the classroom?

This question is one of the very few that Google can’t easily answer.

Technology in the classroom definitely has its merits. Last spring, when the wave of democratic revolution now known as the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East, my geography teacher used technology to give us a front-row seat to the events happening half a world away. We would watch live media coverage before he lectured, which added a rich, real-world dimension to our understanding of the modern Middle East.

But as with any new mode of learning, flaws can surface. Technology offers educators a newfound convenience, but can it also be damaging? Many of us have experienced movie showing in lieu of lectures. That movie cannot necessarily answer students’ questions or switch gears midstream to reflect student input. This could leave a teacher burdened to simplify course materials in a shorter amount of time.

Teachers should embrace new technology, but from the perspective of a student, teachers need better training about how to use it so that it actually enhances student learning. Too many times I’ve experienced teachers experiment with technology that is, for example, successful for other teachers in their department, and time spent figuring out its proper use dominates the hour. There should be no learning curve when student achievement is on the line.

Conversely, expert teachers from all experience levels find brilliant new uses for technology and social networking. My favorite example: My high school science teacher tweets class updates and materials, allowing students to engage in their learning outside of school. Adopting smartphones and tablets in class can also be advantageous for students. These devices have a variety of functions, from a stopwatch for a physics experiment to an electronic calendar. For some teachers, smartphones even save money by consolidating technologies.

Like most decisions in education, the correct choice is rarely the easiest, and the goal of every lesson should be the student’s academic achievement. In the end, each teacher should ask himself/herself a simple question: Could this technology maximize student learning? If so, how do I bridge the technology into the classroom?

Ben Davis is a MinnCAN School Reform Blogging Fellow.

Photo credit: Wikipedia


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