Commentary: Technological impact changing education?

Walking around campus, there is an interesting phenomenon taking place affecting almost every part of academic life without most people even knowing it: our dependence on technology.

I recently had the opportunity to watch a PBS Frontline Investigation called “Digital Nation,” a documentary examining how technology has impacted our lives.

One point that really stuck out was how technology has changed the way college students are educated in the classroom. When the average student gets up in the morning it is likely he or she will go grab a coffee, stick headphones in his ears to listen to his favorite music and pull out his smart phone to start texting.

When you get inside a classroom, it is not uncommon to see more than half the class open up their laptops. While professors give lectures, some students are taking notes, but many are actually on Facebook, Twitter or another social networking site.

Are we losing something because of technology?

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Some students are using class time to chat with friends and check social media accounts. In some ways it does affect our ability to engage in meaningful classroom discussion. It can also hurt us when it comes to getting important information.

Though, this is not to say having technology in the classroom is a bad thing.

Take for example Eastern Michigan University’s main classroom building Pray-Harrold, which is currently under renovation. The new classrooms are going to be packed with the latest classroom technology.

Now the question is, will these changes help enhance the educational experience, or will they serve as another distraction for students?

Personally, I think the good is outweighing the bad.

If, for example, I am taking a biology course, technology could make it easier for my professor to show me how a strain of DNA actually looks, opposed to a flat picture in a book or my professor attempting to draw it on the board.

One thing adding to our technological dependence is many of us thinking we can multi-task when with our technology. As I walked through some buildings on campus, I see many students trying to type a paper while watching a video or texting at the same time.

This is something I am guilty of. I found myself trying to leave a message on Facebook, write a paper and watch one of my favorite crime dramas on TV. I found I am more efficient when I close out my Facebook account, turn off my TV and set my phone to silent.

I think we need to question whether or not technology is having the kind of positive academic effect we are hoping for.

This semester I am taking a math course, and after the first exam the instructor handed out wireless remote clickers with buttons marked A through D. The instructor said these clickers were going to help track student participation by polling the class.

After the instructor ended one part of the lecture, we were given a practice problem with four answers to choose from. If there was a majority of the class with an incorrect answer, the instructor would go back over the material a second time.

This is very different from the days of instructors just walking into class, presenting the material, giving an exam two or three weeks later and then moving on to the next subject. I personally consider it a good thing professors can have some sort of instant indication whether or not their students understand what they are trying to teach. Why not use technology if you can get a positive change in teaching methods?

It is too early to tell whether technology in the classroom will have the kind of benefits it has the potential to have. Only time will tell if it is more of a help than a hindrance in the classroom and it is also up to how students choose to handle their technology.

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