Why Use Technology in Education?

  Charles Thacker       January 17, 2007      Tutorials Education

If you’re a regular visitor to this website, you may not need to read any supporting arguments for the use of technology in your educational system. However, it is beneficial to begin any discussion with a solid foundation in the topic to be presented.

Why students should be using technology in their education can be a complex issue, and there are many small points to be made here about the value of learning, understanding and using technology. It can be compared to science in general. Science is responsible for almost all of our advances around the world. It is difficult to think of any current tools, information and discoveries that are not the direct result of science. From the paint used in any art or commercial product to the increasing understanding of the origins of the cosmos and ourselves; science is at the root of it all. Similarly, technology is becoming the foundation upon which nearly everything is being built.

In our area of the country the oil and gas industries are a major employer. Many families depend on this industry for their livelihood. At some meetings in our district we used to hear comments about how someone’s child doesn’t need to learn about computers, because they can make a good living in the oil fields. However, if there is any industry in our area that has a high reliance on technology in general, and computers specifically, it’s the oil and gas industry. Remote pumping stations are monitored and adjusted from centralized computer systems connected with wireless technology. Laptop computers are common in the oil field trucks. Minute adjustments made by computing systems are capable of changing output on pumping systems automatically, increasing efficiency and reducing time spent traveling to manually check equipment. There are very few jobs that our students will be encountering which do not include technology in some way.

Outside of business, our society has changed the way we communicate and interact with each other on personal and global scales. This is a direct result of advances in technology. Information is freely (mostly) available to anyone with the right technology. Instant communication around the world is a reality and used for personal, business and education applications. A common theme among school district mission statements is the preparation of students to be productive members of an ever-changing society. Much of that change is due to technology. Without a commitment to using technology in the classroom, both to teach and to learn, we will be unable to meet those mission statements.

The use of technology in education has been steadily growing in the United States with a recent push from the Federal, State and Local Education Agency (LEA) levels. Due to the increasingly ubiquitous nature of modern technology, specifically computers, the use of technology in the classroom broke the boundary of the computer science departments. In some curricular areas such as industrial arts, or ‘shop’ for those of you older than twenty-four, you don’t see many of the tools of the trade outside of the industrial arts classroom. However, with technology you began to see simultaneous growth inside the computer science department and the general classroom. When new technology was being introduced in the computer classes it was also being discovered as a useful tool in the regular classroom where dynamic educators were looking for ways to improve their presentation of material, engage students, and provide current and relevant information. This inclusion of technology in the classroom began in earnest around the time the first personal computers hit the market. You could afford to purchase and house a computer in a classroom, and not just one, but many. The process of teaching has since been undergoing its own revolution, or evolution, from fact-focused and dependent upon lectures and demonstrations to a cognitive process focusing on critical thinking and problem solving. The concept of ‘what you know’ is being changed from what you have stored in your own memory to what information you have access to and what you can do with that information.

The routine use of technology in general classrooms by teachers and students was extensively studied by Apple from 1985 through 1998, one of the longest continuing studies of its kind in the educational system. One of the results of this study was the identification of five stages of instructional evolution when using technology in a classroom. As educators use technology, and more importantly have strong professional development in the integration of technology in education, they steadily show improvement in the effectiveness of technology in the classroom.

When educators progress beyond the Adaptation stage, technology becomes more than just a tool for presenting the curriculum and transitions into an extension of the instructor and the student. The National Educational Technology Standards Projects (NETS) defines technology integration with the following statement.

Curriculum integration with the use of technology involves the infusion of technology as a tool to enhance the learning in a content area or multidisciplinary setting. Technology enables students to learn in ways not previously possible. Effective integration of technology is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally. The technology should become an integral part of how the classroom functions — as accessible as all other classroom tools.

Although there was a great influx of technology into classrooms in the mid 1980s, this explosive growth didn’t seem to match the growth of technology in the general populace. It has generally been observed that new technology goes to the military, private sector, higher education, and finally public education in that order. This has been changing with recent technological advancements which public schools are taking advantage of. This would include the development of the Internet, improved multi-media capabilities, and the use of converged networks (the use of a computer network to handle data, voice and video).

Recent emphasis on technology integration in education has been coming from the United States Department of Education as well. As technology revolutionizes the way that we, the general public, interact with each other and the world around us, it is being openly acknowledged that students who are to be prepared for life in the ‘real world’ will need to have a strong foundation in the use of technology as a tool. For this reason, and due to the results of studies like Apple’s Classrooms of Tomorrow, which have shown the advantages of technology in education, schools are increasing their efforts to integrate technology into education at the macro and micro levels. There are several projects under way in schools across the nation which we will be discussing here, from district level implementation of new technology to the increasingly popular creation of one to one initiatives where all staff and students have a laptop computer for their dedicated use at school and at home. Every project has to succeed with a proven return on the investment being made by the education system and the public’s funding of that system. Those topics, however, will have to wait for future TechEd articles.

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