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Classroom Tech

Many high schools, colleges and universities are taking stance on the technology revolution when it comes to their classrooms. They are fighting it tooth and nail. Classes typically begin with the professor saying, “Please close your laptops, and turn off your cell phones until class is finished. Thank you.” Students comply without complaint because it’s the norm. But why are they asked to do this? Is this class being taught on an airplane?

Educators have many good reasons for asking students to check the tech at the door. Students won’t pay attention. Online surfing distracts others. Some students don’t have laptops. Technology is expensive, complicated, and keeps changing. The lessons are fine the way they are.

In yesterday’s Nausha Telegraph, Michael Brindley examined the teaching methods of Nick Audley, a high school teacher, who has adapted his teaching methods to embrace the technology revolution.

Mr. Audley encourages tech in his class, asks students to text in answers and gets immediate feedback and full class participation on every question. He uses iPads, laptops, and web based resources in his lesson plans. It might seem like a pretty wild idea, but Mr. Audley merely looked at his students’ behavior, needs, and capabilities and created an innovative, enthralling curriculum that caters to his students. It is paying off in spades.

Many students feel that class policies that ban use of cell phones, computers or other wireless technology are fighting a losing battle. Tech is here to stay, and is only going to become more integral in people’s lives as devices become smaller and more powerful. Why limit tech’s presence when it can make classes faster, cheaper, and more interesting?

Some teachers are concerned that nobody will pay attention to their lesson. If students become disinterested and can afford to zone out or ignore the lecture, what’s that say about the method of instruction? Perhaps the answer is to make classes more interesting, involved, and interactive. Classes that require participation keep students attentive, and technology makes it easy for every student to be involved in every question. The answer shouldn’t be to refuse to adapt to the times. Instead, use the tools the times provide to improve, stay relevant and stay interesting.

People argue that laptops or cell phones distract the people around the user. But this doesn’t quite equate. We are speaking of a generation of students that are masters at filtering out distractions. Popup ads, tv commercials, banner ads, spam mail. Advertisers are pounding their heads against their desk trying to find a way to get this generation’s attention. It isn’t unusual to see kids listening to an iPod with the TV on while surfing the Internet and texting. Yet schools are worried that students that really want to pay attention will be helpless to the allure of their neighbor’s Facebook surfing? That seems a bit out of touch.

Educators also want to be sensitive to the financial means of all students. While asking students to bring a laptop to class isn’t necessarily reasonable, nearly everybody has cell phones and access to a computer with Internet. So why not use it? Audley points out that it’s important to connect with students on their level. It isn’t about what the teacher finds convenient or comfortable, it’s about conveying the lesson in its most efficacious form. And that means telling it to students in a way they understand, through a medium they understand and engage with.

There is also the point that technology is expensive, changes rapidly, and is burdensomely complicated. Even Audley’s school received a $200,000 grant to upgrade technologies, and most schools are strapped for cash as it is. The reality is that most classes don’t need a tech upgrade. Teachers have cell phones and computers with access to hundreds of free online resources that can supplement and transform their curriculum. Having students submit their work electronically could save schools in paper costs, and can save teachers time grading homework, quizzes or tests. Some colleges use expensive clickers in classrooms to allow for student participation and get instantaneous feed back. Why not let them use their cell phone and keep $50 in their pockets?

There are huge opportunities for innovation in classrooms through embracing technology rather than stifling its presence. High schools can see a greater return in participation at a lower cost. Colleges and universities that look for ways to incorporate innovative, interactive tools into their classrooms will see students more engaged, knowledgeable and a technologically innovative curriculum can cause a school’s national ranking will go up. Students want to engage with their classes, it’s just a question whether the classes want to innovate and engage with them.

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