Across the United States, teachers are incorporating technology and online tools into their classrooms more than ever, even at lower grade levels. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average number of computers used for instructional purposes per school increased from 72 in 1995 to 189 in 2008. The center also took a study of public school teachers in 2009 reporting how frequently they used various types of software and Internet sites for classroom preparation, instruction, or administrative tasks and found that even in schools with three quarters or more of the student body being eligible for free or reduced lunch, teachers reported using Word processing software and software to make presentations “sometimes or often” 94 percent and 60 percent of the time respectively. With such a clear trend in technological implementation in classrooms, policymakers and educators are weighing the pros and cons of technology based modes of learning.
Technology can automate some of the more tedious tasks involved with school like grading and handing students their graded assignments back. At the higher education level, more than 500 colleges have adopted Top Hat, a digital service for streamlining grading, discussions, and participation in lectures. Blackboard, another digital platform, has found its way into countless high schools and colleges around the country and provides templates that allow teachers and students to easily coordinate on assignments and course materials. Technology has also increased the visual capacity that teachers can employ in their lessons. In incorporating more devices and tools in the classroom, teachers are also helping students gain practical skills in creating presentation, maintaining proper etiquette, and writing emails, essential abilities in the workplace.
On the flip side, concerns about the pedagogical consequences of technology in the classroom have emerged in wake of national investments in making classrooms and lessons more technology dependent. Worries include about keeping students, especially younger children, focused on lessons and minimizing distractions, online security and safety for educational platforms online, undermining fundamental study habits and negatively affecting student’s ability to verbally communicate.
These pros and cons have to be considered carefully as oftentimes schools in different districts have vastly different needs and educational goals. For the areas most in need – high-poverty inner city communities, catching up technologically will require significant federal funding. One of the hurdles turning to digitized classrooms and schools presents, especially in schools already behind others, is cost. The last two years of the Obama administration saw an initiative to change the Federal Communication Commission’s $2.3 billion E-rate program, which subsidizes telecommunications spending by schools and libraries. Schools rely on E-rate funding for broadband, but also for the internal systems that connect classrooms to the network. E-rate puts forward most of its money towards broadband and the concern now is that there will be little leftover for those internal networks that make it possible for schools to hook up classrooms. What use is high speed Internet if the interconnectivity in schools is not present? The past decade has seen a shift in priority in America towards digitizing classrooms as part of making America globally competitive. The challenge that faces school communities, particularly those most in need, is in mitigating some of the challenges inherent in effectively incorporating technology into a beneficial pedagogy while remaining financially above water.