Why Technology is Essential in the Classroom
Guest post by Sarah Fudin, University of Southern California
Technology touches almost every aspect of modern life, so it seems only natural that it should be part of every K-12 classroom. Many school districts are investing in classroom technology but without teacher training and a technology plan, it may be difficult for students to move beyond using computers for document creation and basic online research. In order to integrate tech into the classroom as effectively as possible, it helps to gain a better understanding of why it is essential to modern education.
One of the primary ways that technology can enhance classroom learning is through high-quality digital content to complement lesson plans. Online resources provide teachers with a wealth of interesting, relevant and easily accessible research and multimedia. Many students already use the Internet as their primary source for entertainment content; under a teacher's direction, they can learn how to navigate safely through the digital multimedia world for education.
Another important use of technology in the classroom is to support project-based learning. When students work in teams and use technology to solve challenging problems and perform in-depth research, they are gaining a better understanding of how projects are completed in today's workplace. Project-based learning allows students to develop 21st century problem-solving skills as they learn how to search for and synthesize online information. Digital presentation and collaboration tools like PowerPoint, digital video, personal websites and online forums provide students with new channels for self-expression and creativity, while educating them in a way that is hands-on and engaging.
Computer-based modeling and simulation tools provide students with new ways to gain knowledge through visualization and interaction. Teachers who go beyond "chalk and talk" and use animations and simulations, especially in science and math, contribute to their students' depth of understanding. An added benefit is that students become more engaged and focused when they can visualize abstract information. When students are given independent access to online modeling and simulation tools, they can reinforce what they've learned through their own experiments.
Technology has redefined communication in the classroom, allowing teachers and students to stage free video conferences with other classrooms across the country or around the world. Lessons about geography and culture have greater impact when students meet people whose lives are very different from their own and interact with them to attain an understanding of far-off places in a manner more intimate than just reading a textbook.
Technology in the classroom can also be used by teachers to assess student learning and personalize instruction to accommodate a student's learning level and needs. Without disrupting the rest of the class, students who work at a different pace can be given more advanced or supplemental assignments. In this way, technology can play the role of teacher's aide or tutor.
Yet another emerging use of technology in the classroom is the digital textbook. Many school districts continue to use well-worn out-of-date textbooks because of the high cost of replacements. As more textbook publishers transition to the e-book format, low-cost and even free digital textbooks promise to become an essential element of the classroom of the future. Electronic textbooks will also provide relief to the primary and secondary school students who carry textbooks and notebooks weighing 25 lbs or more to and from school each day.
The federal government recently showed its support for such implementations of technology in the classroom during the National Town Hall meeting held on the first annual Digital Learning Day. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski were part of a discussion that focused on the importance of transitioning K-12 schools to digital learning. The National Town Hall, which could be viewed in webcast form on classroom computers, profiled teachers who have integrated technology and instruction, and focused on successful school innovation projects that demonstrated the effective use of technology.
The FCC's E-Rate program is currently the largest funder of information technology in U.S. schools. According to Chairman Genachowski, technology-based teaching can reduce the time it takes to learn a lesson by 30 to 80 percent. The FCC Chairman also called digital textbooks the cornerstone of digital learning and announced a new public-private program called Connect to Compete. The goal of the project is to get private corporations to contribute to an initiative that will promote the adoption of broadband technology in more U.S. classrooms. The FCC and the Department of Education also announced a joint effort called the Digital Textbook Collaborative that will publicize best practices for schools to transition to digital learning.
Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn an online teaching degree and Masters in Education. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.