Classroom Technology

Schools struggle to adapt to using classroom technology

Original Title: mmills_stockphotos_0274M.tifIf you’ve picked up a newspaper recently, you’ve probably seen a piece on how schools grapple with the influence of technology in kids’ lives. Teachers report that students procrastinate on their homework or stay up too late because they’re using Facebook, playing video games, and texting, among other diversions.   They often use any in-between class time to text whether or not there is a school prohibition on cell phones.[1] Laptops are often permitted in class so that students can use them to take notes, yet teachers also worry that young people are using their computers to surreptitiously surf the Web during class. And on top of these worries, cyberbullying has become a huge problem for schools. Even though it usually takes place off campus, vicious comments on social media sites affect students’ lives when they’re in school.  Because cyberbullying usually takes place among classmates, parents want the schools to take action.

Aside from being a distraction and source of sometimes unhealthy peer interaction, there is some data to suggest that technology may actually be changing the adolescent brain.  A recent New York Times article compiles research that suggests video game and Internet exposure may be teaching the adolescent brain to expect distraction. This in turn may make it more difficult for young people to achieve tasks that require concentration over longer periods.  Moreover, these newer technologies may negatively affect sleep quality and memory formation. [2] More research is needed before we completely understand the impact that technology is (and is not) having on youth development.  Nonetheless, there is a growing consensus in the research world that technology is great— just not all of the time!

If we need to reduce the amount of technology that adolescents use, then why are schools also incorporating technology into the classroom? Because increasingly, educators believe that the old lecture and chalkboard format is no longer the best way to teach.  The most effective teaching is not that which looks to sandwich subject matter between “fun” technology.  Rather, it is that which uses technology to meet long-term educational goals. Those goals include teaching students the subject matter, assessing it, and thinking of the world students will be living and working in once they leave school. A recent MIT study found that “Undoubtedly, without these recent technologies (i.e. digital games, Web 2.0, etc.) in the classroom, strong lessons can still be achieved, but there’s a sharp disconnect between the way students are taught in school and the way the outside world approaches socialization, meaning-making, and accomplishment. It is critical that education not only seek to mitigate this disconnect in order to make these two ‘worlds’ more seamless, but of course also to leverage the power of these emerging technologies for instructional gain.”[3]

As such, schools are beginning to use new technology to encourage interactivity and create assessments. Some teachers maintain class blogs and require students to comment on them; others create wikis (websites that can be created and edited by users) that students maintain, adding subject matter as the school year goes on. Teachers use digital slideshows that allow users to leave text, audio, or video comments.  For example, an art teacher could send slides of Renaissance art to his students and have them leave a voice comment on each slide that the teacher will then listen to. And personal response systems (aka “clickers”) allow teachers to conduct real-time polls and quizzes to gauge the comprehension of the whole class.  New methodologies extend both online and offline.  For example, schools are using Harkness discussions, which tend to be student-led with the teacher facilitating and gauging student participation and comprehension.

Teaching styles must reflect the world in which young people will grow up and be productive.

Today’s workplace is more global and less hierarchical than in the past; it utilizes teamwork and consensus building. In a workplace of forty years ago, you would find employees who had been with the company their entire working lives—in the same field. The most sophisticated office equipment was a typewriter. Now, people may hold several different careers by the time they’re thirty. Employees come and go from a workplace, learning new skills and taking on new roles. One branch of the company may be in New York, another in India, and a third in France. Yet they all do business together. Managers are often working right next to the employees, on a first-name basis and with an open-door policy. Everyone uses a computer and most office communication is done via e-mail, instant messaging, and team meetings.

Technology is here to stay; and it will only continue to transform our world.   So while teachers worry about the influence of technology in children’s lives—how it affects their attention spans, sleep, and emotional well-being – they also know that they need to help youth make sense of it and learn to use it creatively, effectively, and responsibly.


[1] Amanda Lenhart, “’How Do [They] Even Do That?’ Myths and Facts About the Impact of Technology on the Lives of American Teens,” April 7, 2011,,.

[2] Matt Richtel, “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction,” New York Times, November 21, 2010,

[3] Erick Klopfer, Scot Osterweil, Jennifer Groff, and Jason Haas, “Using the Technology of Today, in the Classroom Today,” The Education Arcade, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009.