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Latest, not the greatest, when it comes to classroom technology

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February 22, 2016

10:30 PM

While many industries and fields have wholeheartedly adopted technology, education seems to be one of those areas that just can’t seem to get it quite right. Countless applications, software programs, and devices are focused on enhancing the educational experience. Duolingo and StudyBlue are fine for outside of class work, but successfully bringing technological advancement into the classroom proves to be a more difficult undertaking.

Current classroom experiences vary dramatically at the College of William and Mary. Some courses seamlessly transition from lecture slides to online videos and manage to incorporate other elements like cellphone surveys to get a small-class feel in a large lecture hall. Other feel far more disjointed, with accommodations as basic as outdated and finicky projectors posing barriers to a successful learning environment. The nationwide dearth of effective progress is not because options are limited. Rather, it’s a matter of disconnect between the original idea and its inception, and a lack of clear focus on the ultimate goal of bringing technology into the classroom: to enhance the learning environment. Incorporation of technology in the classroom must be targeted as carefully as other classroom routines.

The College’s administration spends a great deal of time on other aspects of the college experience, such as fine-tuning new student programming and providing opportunities for engagement off-campus. The same attention must be paid to the issue of adopting new technology to enhance the educational experience. The logic of doing this is not nearly as complicated as it seems, but in the haste to keep up with a rapidly progressing world, the efforts to modernize leave educators and students in the dust.

Bringing technology into the classroom should start with honest, open conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of the current classroom environment.

Change that is dropped into the laps of students and educators is unlikely to stick, and with good reason. The bureaucracy of most higher educational institutions is ill-suited for these kind of fine-tuned, case-by-case decisions. Bringing technology into the classroom should start with honest, open conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of the current classroom environment. Chalkboards, for instance, are impermanent and inflexible. SMART Boards are increasing in number on campus, and they are a great alternative, as they allow instructors to save files and manipulate teaching materials with more tools than an eraser and chalk.

The college boasts an impressive faculty, but collaboration with other universities and accessing resources can be difficult to arrange due to schedule complications and the various obligations of faculty members. Idea sharing, professional development, educational access, and collaboration have seemingly endless potential when an institution implements Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, to help.  Here on campus, classes in numerous departments are increasingly taking advantage of the extremely useful (albeit overpriced) online homework sets to monitor progress and provide additional practice outside of classroom examples. A quick Google search will reveal the endless opportunities available, and rave reviews about the success of dozens and dozens of radical ideas to bring technology and education together. The world has absolutely moved past the days of demonizing the internet and declaring that screens will rot the brains of adolescents. On the contrary, technology can be the catalyst that takes a student or educator’s experience from good to great.

 It is remarkable how much can be accomplished by allowing the internet into a classroom, encouraging students to collaborate with online tools, and devising learning plans that touch on far more than a basic lecture ever could.

Targeted efforts and tools that are supplements to learning, rather than substitutes for tried and true methods, will always be more successful. Education has come a long way in a very brief period of time, and much of this forward movement has been on the backs of technological innovation. It is remarkable how much can be accomplished by allowing the internet into a classroom, encouraging students to collaborate with online tools, and devising learning plans that touch on far more than a basic lecture ever could. There is great potential for technology in the classroom, but even the best efforts are often misguided because institutions and individuals are too caught up in being current, rather than finding the method that truly works. As the best educators and most sophisticated students know, education is not, and never will be, one-size-fits-all.

Email Madison Ochs at [email protected]

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  • Madison Ochs