December 5, 2021

It’s a tool, not a teacher

Technology can enhance education when it’s used correctly

Shenandoah Briere

Homer third grader Kaitlyn Boylan types the answer to a question asked by her teacher, Morgan Seibel, during a lesson Monday on Christopher Columbus. The class incorporates Chromebooks and educational program Nearpod into its lessons.

Homer Intermediate School third-grade teacher Morgan Seibel typed out a question on her phone and clicked send. The question appeared on all the students’ computer screens and the board in the front of the classroom.

Each student read the question and quickly began typing an answer back into educational program Nearpod. Once finished, Seibel picked an answer to show to the students.

Seibel was using Nearpod to teach her students a lesson on Christopher Columbus. Homer Central School District isn’t the first to implement more technology in its classrooms, rather 48 states and the District of Columbia support online learning, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Education Week reported in 2016 that public schools provide at least one computer for every five students in a classroom. The article also noted that education technology is an $8 billion hardware and software business and $3 billion is spent annually on digital content.

With more technology being incorporated into classrooms it is changing how teachers teach and students learn.

“Things just change so much faster now and if we are not thinking about what kids need, skill-wise, while they’re young then we’re not preparing them for the future,” said Chris Widdall, a professor of educational technology at SUNY Cortland.

Data shows that more jobs in America are using technology in some way. More than 32 million workers in the U.S. have highly digital jobs, 66 million workers have moderately digital jobs and 41 million jobs require low digital skills, according to a study published in 2017 by Washington, D.C., think tank The Brookings Institution.

Over the last several years, digitalized jobs have only increased.

“Specifically, nearly 4 million of the nation’s 13 million new jobs created since 2010 — 30 percent — have required high-level digital skills,” the study reads. “Nearly two-thirds of new jobs required either high- or medium-level digital skills.”

From typing to researching information, using technology is unavoidable, said Jeff Craig, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction with the Cortland Enlarged City School District.

Years ago, students would go to a computer lab to do work like a “special event,” he said, but now computers are used more and more in classrooms.

“You don’t only use a computer during one particular time of the day anymore,” Craig said. “So now technology is not a special event, it’s a tool like a pen or calculator.”

He said the school district has put around $500,000 toward upgrading its computers.

Many forms

Technological learning can come in many forms.

In the Homer Central School District, students get one-to-one education and receive a Chromebook in the third grade. The Cortland City Enlarged District has at least one device for every student in kindergarten through 12th grade and the district has makerspaces for students, where they can learn coding for robots and drones.

Seibel said educational tools like Nearpod help keep students focused.

“If anything I think it’s engaging them a lot more than me just standing in the front of the classroom and pointing at what I have up there,” she said. “They have it in front of them, they’re engaged, they’re looking at it, they’re zooming in, they’re answering questions, and they’re typing.”

She said the kids know in Nearpod there’s going to be open-ended questions, so they maintain their focus on the lesson so they can get the answer right.

It also helps that every student’s name for an answer remains anonymous when shared with the class, she said, because then more students feel encouraged to participate.

“Even if a kiddo got it wrong, OK, well now they’re seeing a correct answer straight on the board, so it really doesn’t single one student out,” she said.

Craig said some of Cortland’s teachers use platforms like Google Classroom. Like Nearpod, Google Classroom enables the kids to work together on projects, answer questions, view the lesson on a computer and much more.

“There’s nothing like being able to open up a doc and work on it at the same time as someone else,” Craig said.

The programs also provide teachers with almost instant feedback on student progress during a lesson — it’s one of Seibel’s favorite things about using technology.

“I can go back and I can say “50% of the class didn’t get this one right we’re going to go back and take another look at this information,’” she said.

“They’re good tools for teachers to monitor students individually,” Craig said.

Online programs and other forms of technology also allow a lesson to continue at any time.

Widdall said technology enables a class to, for example, take a quick trip outside to take photos of bugs and use those photos later on in a lesson.

“Then the students becomes like a little researcher,” she said.

In some places across the nation, the traditional classroom setting has been competing with personalized learning — students focusing on their laptops.

However, Widdall said technology is most handy in classrooms when the teacher is still the teacher and the technology is just a tool, as opposed to the technology becoming the teacher.

Technology is just a tool

Widdall said schools are becoming more concerned about how the teachers use technology.

“The technology should not take over,” she said.

But Widdall said it’s important students get the skills to understand what technology can do and how and when it should be used. “The way they learn and practice those skills is with teacher-to-student and student-to-student interaction,” she said.

Technology should still allow students to think on their own and allow for problem solving, she said, so students become “designers of their own learning” and don’t rely on a laptop and the internet to think and write for them.

Widdall said technology also shouldn’t take over a classroom to the point where traditional classroom techniquies like collaborative group work and socialization are hindered.

“There are times when technology shouldn’t become a substitute,” she said. “It’s OK to integrate technology into research but only when you are letting technology do what it does well while the students are still learning those social skills, collaboration skills and talking skills to later be good citizens in our community. We don’t want our students to lose those social skills.”

It’s during that time that students can interact with each other and work on projects where they listen to each other’s ideas, Seibel said. “We try to teach our kids about when it’s appropriate to use technology and what it’s used for — when to use a calculator, when to use the pencil, when to use the Chromebook,” Craig said.