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Technology in the Classroom: Misguided Investment or Immeasurable Benefit?

September 6th, 2011

As a new school year begins, an article in the New York Times considers a conundrum in the current push for the use of technology in the classroom. The article highlights Kyrene School District where, after major investments, the classes are “decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject.” Despite the presence of cutting-edge technology, however, Kyrene has seen no improvement in their students’ math and reading scores. In fact, since the technological upgrade in 2005, the school’s scores have remained stagnant, while the statewide average has risen.
The article considers several possible explanations for stagnant scores in a tech-savvy school like Kyrene; many of which look to the way we assess educational progress in general. For example, while standardized tests reflect that the students at Kyrene have stagnated in past years, the tests do not show the subsequent improvement of students’ technological skills, which are arguably more important in the digital age. Proponents argues that “technology has inspired students and helped them grow, but that there is no good way to quantify those achievements.”
Further, the assessment of technology in the classroom underscores an important point: as the push for more technology increases, “computers are not intended to replace teachers.” To the districts that pour money into laptops and Smart Boards while cutting their budgets and laying off teachers, Bryan Goodwin, spokesman for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, points out: “Good teachers can make good use of computers, while bad teachers won’t, and they and their students could wind up becoming distracted by the technology.”
The ideal educational structure, it seems, is one where a teacher can use technological tools to engage with students, as a jumping off point for further discussion or independent analysis. This idea rings true when thinking of the classrooms that use FantasySCOTUS as a teaching tool. While Harlan Institute aims to provide resources that fit into history and civics curricula in the digital age, the important part happens in the classroom as students think critically about cases and respond with blog posts or as classes collaborate to predict the outcome of a case before casting their vote on the website. This year, we have also introduced the Podcast Badge, which allows students to record their responses to certain topics, and we hope some students will experiment with this medium and enhance their oral communication skills.