The Dark Side: Negatives to Technology?

This week I was asked by school administration to supervise our online learning component since the regular teacher suddenly became ill.  The students came into the classroom, took their seats, put on their headphones, logged in and began working.  Never saying a word to one another.  It was unnerving seeing the students complete their learning objectives (some with more focus than others) with zero interaction, both from teacher and other students.    As I sat there, staring at the backs of their heads, I began wondering if all of this technology is the best path for education.  The current buzz is that technology is the future of education, and it is an unparalleled advancement for learning opportunities, but is it?

I did a couple of google searches and stumbled across an interesting article. “The False Promise of Classroom Technology” states that throwing millions of dollars into technology around the United States has had little to no impact in increasing learning outcomes.  Shockingly, overseas classrooms that have implemented classroom technology have experienced a decrease in learning outcomes.

A google search yielded a myriad of negative side effects of classroom technology: technology overload, decrease in focus and higher-order thinking, shift from essential content to how to use the technology, decrease in hands-on learning, a game-mentality where everything must be a game, and less processing with more copying.

Obviously, technology is not the savior of our education system.  The general consensus among most articles, and I agree with this, is that with proper training, technology can be a positive in classrooms.  The problem is that schools are investing thousands of dollars into technology without training teachers how to properly implement the technology.  What is the point of buying these tools if no one is taught how to use them?  The issue is not with the tools, but with how the teachers use them.  You can’t give someone a hammer and chisel and expect them to create the David without any training.

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8 Responses to The Dark Side: Negatives to Technology?

  1. Ben-
    What an insightful post. I think most of us that are surrounded by technology all day forget that may be it is not working how we think or want it to in the classroom. Your last point is my my daily struggle…why buy it if no one knows how to use it. Not even the fact of knowing how to use it, its knowing how to teach it to be useful and a learning experience for all. Your post made me think of many of my teachers who want it, but don’t want to take the time to learn it or use it correctly. It is frustrating.

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  2. When it comes to learning, Ben, I think technology is nothing more than a tool to enhance student achievements. Technology in and of itself cannot bring about positive changes. As you aptly put, I think before investing millions of dollars on equipments, the schools must invest in professional development and training sessions for teachers. They also need to have an impeccable support system for technology using teachers to come to their aid anytime they require assistance. Let’s face it, with technology, there is always going to be problems. There is never going to be a day when you can just switch it on and everything would work magnificently. One of the important factors that gets technology bad press is the fact that you mentioned: lack of training. When teachers are not confident enough with their technology use, they tend to make mistakes or worse, just quit. With clear objectives and effective planning, technology can help enhance learning outcomes. We should also take into consideration that not everyone shares an opinion about a certain phenomenon, positive or negative. That’s what drives people to dig deeper. Good post!

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  3. r31cotton says:

    Thanks for the post Ben. I think that like most things in life, technology is beneficial with balance. It sounds like the class that you watched was way too heavy on the technology. I agree with you that there needs to be interaction between students and teachers in order to develop social skills. I also think that implementing technology in the classroom is very important to develop 21st century skills. Do you think that the class you were in would be more effective with a blended learning model?

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  4. elearnable1 says:

    Ben, like Katie said, this is a very insightful post. It’s similar with any type of technology in the learning field. In the corporate world, “mobile learning” is the big thing these days. But just using the technology is not enough. We have to apply all of the things we already know about learning and see where the technology can ADD to our existing capabilities.

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  5. rmsalas72 says:

    Benjamin, I share your concerns. The importance of providing training, guidance, sharing best practices and focusing on the learning process instead of the teaching component are extremely important aspects to consider during incorporation of technologies in our classrooms. I believe exposing students to eLearning environment must be progressively increased with the advancing of educational levels. I found informative the article you shared, thank you.

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  6. I love your description of your students as they came in and got to work. I used to work in a middle school where the students did the same thing and I had the same reaction when I would see them in the lab- they kind of looked like zombies! I used two online curricula in my first grade classroom and I loved it. I also invested in making the programs an active and dynamic part of the classroom. For my math curriculum we have individual and whole class progress trackers that we would update each day. Each week we would hand out awards for students who showed great progress, helped other students, or finally succeeded at a challenging learning objective. Half of my students would use the online program one day while the others were on the carpet receiving direct instruction- then, the two groups would switch the next day for a total of two days of computer and two days of direct instruction each week. I arranged the objectives in the online program to match the objectives I was teaching so it gave students the opportunity to independently practice and apply what they were learning. Additionally, I spent a lot of time setting up how to work independently on computers. Because I would be teaching while they were on the computers, I usually was not available to help them when they got stuck. Instead, I taught my students how to coach each other through a challenge without telling them the answers. It was brilliant. They loved being able to coach their friends and they really did a great job at it- I rarely had to intervene. This allowed them all to reach higher levels of understanding than just repetition. But it took a lot more work on my part than just getting them logins and putting them in front of a screen.

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  7. Curt Pavia says:

    I certainly agree that technology has its downsides in education. The cost of equipment, the training needed, the disparity of haves and have-nots, the rapid turn-over of software and hardware can all lead to problems. As a school district trains teachers, within a couple of years something new has come along and need to be re-trained.

    On the other hand, I am a staunch advocate for not having technology in the elementary grades. Kids 5-11 years old have so much else they could be doing in school than sitting in front of screens – art, music, theater, exploring, movement, hands-on science, sports and using their imagination. In my opinion, tech can stifle imagination and movement which does not help the child. As they get older, tech can be introduced and they have little trouble picking up how to use it.

    The findings in the article are very interesting and I wonder how much press they will see as tech companies are selling to education systems around the world.

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  8. Heather Schelt says:

    Ben,
    This is a great post! What an interesting experience you had supervising those students. I totally agree though, technology is only as useful as the people who use it. Technology can take us places that textbooks and lectures never could, but if teachers are not properly trained it’s useless. One hurdle that my school is facing right now is how to incorporate technology, where students are utilizing 21st century skills. I feel like the only solution is training teachers implement technology as a way to connect with the rest of the world, and still encouraging students to work together and collaborate to solve problems. If were going to sit students down at computers as they work through modules, we might as well do away from the brick and morter school system all together and let them stay home because schools are not only for teaching our students content but for teaching them to socialize and get along with peers and other adults.

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