Using Technology in the Classroom – Not for Everyone

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As a teacher I’ve often spent (wasted) a considerable amount of our in-class time reminding students to use technology responsibly. Teaching in a modern world comes with its challenges. Using technology in the classroom is not only recommended, but it’s preferred by many teachers and encouraged by school boards. In fact, I can’t remember a single job interview where I wasn’t asked the famous question: “How would you use technology to help students achieve their learning goals?” Technology can make life easier and learning more effective, we all agree on that. However, it can also prevent learning if we don’t use it responsibly. 

A class of 25-30 students comes with learners of all abilities, skills, interests and backgrounds. Some of them are very dependent on technology. Many, for example ELL (English language learners), rely on translators. Others, for various reasons, cannot handwrite their notes. Instead, they must type them. Some students can learn and follow along only if they have the information in front of them. That’s why some students find posted lessons on Google classroom very helpful. 

As you can see, technology can be very helpful; however, sometimes it’s just a distraction.

Let’s take a quick look at some benefits of using technology in the classroom:

  1. We’re more creative. I can teach a lesson and make it interesting by playing a video/audio file. Also, the students can show their creativity by using various computer programs (ie: a simple program like Microsoft Power Point allows us to create interesting presentations.)
  2. Learners can easily and very quickly access electronic dictionaries (to look up unfamiliar words, for example.)
  3. We can upload, edit, submit, review, etc. all our files and assignments.
  4. Students can access various programs that help them learn faster.
  5. We can quickly find older lessons and review materials. 
  6. Most importantly (for me): I can upload all my lesson plans and study materials on a class website or Google classroom for students to access or refer to during class.
  7. We can research more effectively. (Remember, the latest information is, literally, at our fingertips!)

These are only some ways we use technology in the classroom to help us learn faster and improve our skills.

Now, let’s take a look at some examples of how the use of technology in the classroom can disrupt learning

  1. As I’ve already mentioned, some students do not use technology responsibly. Instead of researching, learning, listening, or working with others, they spend most of the time surfing the internet and text messaging their friends. Often, it’s hard to know if a student is using his device (ie: cellphone) for educational purposes or something else. If I have to stop teaching every five minutes to remind Steve to put away his cellphone and pay attention, then we have an issue. Every student in the classroom is affected by this because their learning/my teaching is constantly disrupted.
  2. Sometimes, the students rely too heavily on the information they find online, that they don’t put enough effort into learning anything new. For example: if a student has access to an online dictionary, he may not make an effort to memorize/learn new words. He can simply type in a new word and a definition (with the correct pronunciation) will pop up. OR: Let’s say we are in the process of learning “thesis writing”. A student can easily research “thesis examples” online, copy someone else’s writing and submit it as his own. (Of course we can check for plagiarism using various programs, but this usually doesn’t happen until the final assignment is submitted and marked. )
  3. Some students are not tech savvy. They have lots of questions about finding, posting, uploading, editing, and sharing work. This can be challenging (and time consuming) when we try to move quickly through a lesson so that we could do something else (ie: group work or a review quiz.)
  4. Sometimes, the students blame technology for late assignment submissions. They use excuses like: “the internet wasn’t working”, or “the website was down”. 
  5. Other times, the technology, really, is the problem. We can’t download or upload a project because something isn’t working. We then spend time trying to fix the problem, or we wait for someone from our computer/tech department to do it for us. *I think now (during the COVID-19 pandemic), more than ever before, we can see how using technology to work, learn, or simply communicate can be challenging and time consuming. 
  6. Some students use technology to search for inappropriate information (song lyrics, images, etc.). 
  7. Finally, the use of technology also means less face-to-face interactions/socializing. 

What can you do as a parent to ensure that your child uses technology in a responsible way?

a) Please talk to your child about the use of technology (ie: cell phones) in the classroom. If you know that your child is easily distracted, undisciplined and likes to spend his in-class time playing games or text messaging his friends, then think twice before allowing him to take his cell phone to school. It’s always a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher and discuss any questions, issues and concerns. If you think the teacher can see everything and supervise everyone in a class of 30, you’re wrong.

b) Explain to your child that the use of technology is a necessity in some and a privilege in other situations. I was shocked when I learned that half of my daughter’s grade 4 class brought their cell phones to school. Her teacher confirmed that, but explained that the students were only allowed to use their cell phones during breaks (and ONLY if they performed well in class). I also learned that the grade 4 kids mostly used their cell phones to play video games during breaks. I realized that I had to make a hard decision. I thought: video game playing is not (a traditional) learning, but it’s socializing, and that’s important. I wanted my daughter to play with her friends, so allowed her to bring her cell phone to school (under some conditions). I explained to her that bringing a cell phone to school is a privilege that must be taken away if used irresponsibly.  I also explained how difficult it is to teach a student that’s always disrupted by his phone. We talked about what’s appropriate and what’s not; what’s acceptable and what’s not, etc. Most importantly, I talked to her teacher and asked him to contact me in case there were any issues or concerns. It turned out we had a very successful year and no issues with the use or misuse of technology. 

If we want our children to learn effectively,  all parents/guardians must talk to their children about the responsibilities that come with the use of technology in the classroom. I think that using technology to enhance learning is a wonderful idea. We just need to acknowledge that it comes with some drawbacks. 

Written and illustrated by Vedrana Vodopivec
November, 2021