Digitalizing Our Lives
by: Alex Shahla
Technology is becoming ever increasingly pervasive in everyday society. Everyone knows that. Paper and pencils replaced by the warm glow of a screen, or multiple screens for that matter. In schools from reading the hardcover textbook and taking notes to taking online notes on a lecture video. In doctor offices medical records are being transferred from pencil and paper to the computer. From socializing at get-togethers to conversing on social media. Everyone knows of these shifts, but not many may know their long-term implications, whether positive or negative.
As stated above, one of the many shifts to digitalization is happening in America’s schools. Physical textbooks and the necessity of paper and pencil have not gone away, but their online alternatives are creeping up. For example, sophomores in AP World History at Canyon Crest Academy now read their textbooks online instead of in hardcover textbooks, while teachers often assign learning videos for homework, gradually replacing textbook reading. Due to these changes, it is important to be knowledgeable of both sides of the debate on electronic learning - or more generally, having electronics in the classroom - to be better able to maximize its benefits and minimize its costs.
One of the main claims by proponents of technology in classrooms is that, coupled with teacher instruction, they better engage the students than traditional pencil and paper do and allow students to go at their own pace. Polls do seem to show that there is a general correlation between classroom technology usage and engagement. A Pew Research survey shows that 54% of students reported being more involved in classes with technology and that an additional 35% said they were more interested in their teachers’ lessons when electronics are involved.
Take the Iredell-Statesville public middle school district in North Carolina as an example. With a $20 million federal fund, they have increasingly digitized their school. While the shift toward increased digitization was a bit rough as the school faced push backs from teachers and parents questioning the necessity of doing so, the feedback from students and teachers weeks later appeared to be positive. For example, a girl named Michel Fandino who’d recently moved to America from Colombia noted how online learning raised her math grades from near failing to near A’s. She says that the main benefits come from online learning “[making] it fun, so [that] it makes you want to work more.” and being able to go at your own pace in learning at home and school. Every day at home she practices math problems online, and the results have obviously paid off. Other students say internet learning keeps them organized while others note at the Spanish classroom with different rotations, thus increasing classroom efficiency. For now, though, the school district is still concerned how it would keep its electronics once the funds run dry, and many in the district still argue that it is too early to tell whether the benefits will truly outweigh the costs of maintaining this “technology rich school” (Time Magazine, “What it Really Takes for Schools to Go Digital”).
While early signs do show that technology does increase interest among students in the classroom and contributes to a greater personalization of learning, there are still potential drawbacks that critics rightfully bring to light. Many bring up the issue that iPads, for instance, have dozens of potential diversions,.ranging from social media to video games to youtube, that could distract students from the class lessons - even if they don’t access these applications, the urge to do so may still be a cause of distraction. There are options to counter it though, other say. The dangers could go further, as students may find themselves in predicaments with scams and inappropriate content online, sometimes without their fault, as in inappropriate ads. School-provided electronics can filter potentially-distracting websites, though others argue there are always ways for distraction, and that setting up a filter system is solving a self-made expensive problem with even more money.
To add to that, bringing iPads to every school is expensive, and federal funding can dry out, as it may in the Iredell-Statesville school district. A common argument is that electronics are not worth their price tag and can lead to diversion of resources from different programs the school provide that students benefit from. They argue that this diversion of funding toward digitizing schools is not worth it, despite the benefits it may provide. It is true that bringing electronics to schools is not the solution to problems regarding education gaps and lack of interest in class, but it is one of many supplements that could help. The question is whether or not there are other less costly ways to bring the same benefits that electronics seem to be giving that may just avoid the risks associated.
It may be too early to see the full benefits or the full drawbacks of digitalization of schools, but schools need to research on the topic and make informed decisions before doing so. Without trying to take sides, in many cases usually the best decision is finding the ideal balance between teacher instruction and electronic learning. It may be many years until educators decide on the proper balance. For now though, we’ll see how this one out. Stay tuned CCA!