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Is technology all that plus a bag of chips?

Technology has a growing trend in our flattening world (Friedman, 2007) and especially in the lives of the new generation of students. In a 2004 nationwide survey it was found that 58% of 6-12 graders had a cell phone (Obringer & Coffey, 2004). I can remember when my dad got one of the first cell phones from his work, and in the last few years they have boomed. Now the next generation students are growing up with direct exposure to cell phones, personal computers, IPods, and many other electronic gadgets than we had even five years ago. Recognizing the need to include technology in education for student learning and future development for the workplace means that schools should have technology for students to use and learn with.

In comes Craig Peterson, a local high school teacher. Shortly after beginning his time with us he comes to express that technology isn’t as great as it seems. He sees money that has been spent on equipment that isn’t being used by teachers, money that could have gone to other causes in the school. He brought up the argument that technology isn’t always the solution and is hardly utilized. I think that Craig has a love hate relationship with technology because while he sees the previously mentioned downside, he also got excited to tell us about an experience with his own class and technology. In his class they were talking about Everest, and instead of telling students facts about it and showing them a picture he chose to turn on his digital projector and used Google Earth to find the mountain. He took students to the area, showed them the satellite images, and introduced students to perspectives of people that have experienced it. Google was beneficial to his class but at the same time it is also the ninth flattener of the world (Friedman, 2007). All of the information that search engines like Google are available to anyone with internet access. Now anyone can find practically any information they want on their own instead of relying on a professional.

Craig further introduced the concept of critical technology, the technology that is useful for students to learn. From our further discussions in class about how technology is useful and how it is damaging I have changed the way that I perceive its use in school. The decision of whether or not to bring in a new piece of technology is not based alone on financial burdens associated with it, but also with the effects it has on the learning environment and stimuli exposed to students. Take for example if students are communicating in a chat room they are being exposed to many different stimuli than in a normal classroom discussion. Messages may make noise when they are received, text can possibly be made into different styles or colors, and other distractions in the background of the computer are all going on at once.

A visual however like the projector provides a dual coding learning opportunity for the students. Dual coding means that students are taking in information from visual and verbal information (Paivio, 1969). Students process and organize the information they take in visually separately from what they hear, making the combination of the two a more powerful learning experience. However, if there is too much going on visually and verbally that don’t flow together, it can cause confusion for students.

My suggestion for the proper use of technology in the classroom is to figure out the content first as we say in class, and then allow technology to aid in learning, if it fits. As we also discussed I agree that technology isn’t always the answer. Therefore we need to be careful when we decide to use it and have reasons that it is beneficial. Reflection on lessons with technology should always be done as well. A teacher should take a small amount of time to reflect on the use of technology each day it is used to decide if it took over the lesson, if it helped students to learn the content, if students were engaged, and how it should be used next time. This type of thinking can greatly improve the proper use of technology over time. Teachers can also share their reflections with others in their department to make the improvements in more than one class.