Technology’s Place in the 21st Century Classroom

The basic tenets of teaching have largely remained the same over the course of history, centered on teachers passing on their select knowledge to small groups of students. The information that is taught may have changed drastically, but our parents, grandparents and the generations before them, for the most part, were all schooled in similar environments. The advent of classroom technology, such as document cameras and student response systems, have begun to change how teachers interact with students, inspiring a debate on the “best” way to teach.

While schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Los Altos, Calif., has a no-screen policy. Image courtesty of Jim Wilson/The New York Times

One of the loudest voices in this teaching debate comes from Waldorf schools, a group of 160 institutions around the country that promote a teaching method rooted in hands-on tasks and human interaction. As The New York Times explains, the most advanced teaching tools that can be found in the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Silicon Valley are pens, paper and knitting needles. Even though the students’ parents work in the most advanced technological fields in the world, they have deemed the “old-fashioned” way of learning to be more than sufficient for their children.

While use of advanced technology in the classroom has increased at a rapid pace over the past few decades, student test scores have been largely unaffected. A study of the Kyrene School District in Arizona found that despite the presence of “classrooms of the future,” test scores and student achievement had stagnated while statewide scores had risen. This difference in test results cannot be attributed solely to the influence of technology, but the study does demonstrate that the state-funded influx of new computers and other electronic devices hasn’t served as a substitute for good teaching and basic textbooks.

The Waldorf School’s ultimate point in the argument against computers, tablets and other technology is that these devices serve only as distractions in the pursuit of knowledge. Proponents of advanced learning technology suggest that despite the noticeable impact on test scores, using computers and other electronics on a daily basis ensures kids have real-world skills that are essential in our modern world. My personal stance lies between these two extremes, as I believe that technology can be used effectively in the classroom as a tool, but never as a substitute for quality teachers who can connect on a personal level with students.

Does your school promote the use of technology or put emphasis on a more traditional approach? What is your personal view on the subject? Let us know in the comments section below.

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