Joseph Wilmann
November 27, 2012
ENG 100 Third Paper
Brian Ganter

Updating the Classroom to the Digital Era

Advancement of technology is changing the way we live our lives. Whether it is through social media, smart phones, online shopping, media distribution, search engines or professional applications, technology is increasingly finding its way into many aspects of our lives. With this established, it should come as no surprise that technology is starting to play a major role in education. Upgrading classrooms to bring them into the digital era has been a long and messy development that taken place largely due to teacher initiative and participation. This technological transition has been tedious for students and teachers alike as there have been no clear guidelines for implementing this approach to education. There are significant challenges that teachers face when dealing with technology that is rapidly improving and changing. Professional training in new technologies has not been given to teachers and this has lead to much frustration and confusion for educators and pupils both. Due to the widespread use of technology in everyday life, it is critical that educators are technologically competent enough to introduce various forms of digital media into the modern day classroom.

The Waldorf School

Education has often been a trying experience for many students; this is especially the case during this current time period as new media is being experimented with in the classroom. Traditional teaching methods are much defined and goal oriented using only the basics such as a blackboard, books, or perhaps even a projector. While classes taught in this traditional style can be limiting at times they are usually straightforward as the ideas from the lecture are presented to the class from a single source, the lecturer. According to a New York Times article, the Waldorf School in Los Altos California is avoiding introducing technology in class altogether as their teaching philosophy concludes that “computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans”. Their methods of teaching are unique and effective, incorporating physical coordination and activity into the traditional multiplication drills of a third grade classroom. This kind of learning through interaction approach is very beneficial as it allows for children to focus on their work while actively engaging in classroom activities.

Problems With the Traditional Method

The ability to navigate various aspects of technology is becoming a very beneficial skill as it has become so relevant to our everyday lives. The education system has always been centered on guaranteeing that graduates are employable. A school such as the Waldorf present an issue in this regard as a parent states, “his daughter, a fifth grader, “doesn’t know how to use Google,” and his son is just learning (Starting in eighth grade, the school endorses the limited use of gadgets),” leaving such basic academic skills so late in education may be disadvantageous to children transitioning to high school [article]. Today most employment begins with an online application; youth need to be taught to competently navigate multimedia as it is an essential part of joining the work force. Good applications of technology in the classroom should educate students on the core subject matter as well as be able to prompt them to engage with what they are learning. This kind of classroom where technology enhances learning would revolve around the teaching philosophy that students should learn to master the technologies through firsthand experience. A good example of student interaction is when learners are able to pool ideas together in order to help each other understand concepts with which they are struggling. Social bookmarking is a good way for students to interact with the things they are learning and to collaborate to find out new solutions to problems. Examples of social bookmarking being integrated in the classroom are websites such as Twitter where students can discuss ideas from class. Diigo, an academia focused website, is a place students can help each other find resources such as media articles relating to their classes by searching for articles tagged with appropriate hyperlinks.

Video Games in the Classroom

It is clear that there is a place in the classroom for technology but what about the case of video games. Teachers have often viewed video games as detrimental to student learning and do not believe it is possible to lean anything valuable from them. It seems that now this view may be shifting; the level of immersion that video games are technically advanced enough to allow has improved exponentially, depending on the content there is a significant possibility that they could be integrated into certain areas of education. Media integration should be used to inspire students to learn by discovering things for themselves through multimedia activities that interest them. According to the article “Rice University Offering Upper-Division Skyrim Class” a professor in Texas has structured his class around “comparing Skyrim with the Norse mythology that inspired it”. There is a significant amount of detail put into the lore or fiction of video games making them legitimate subjects for analysis in an academic context.

At earlier stages in learning such as in primary school it would be more difficult to make current mass market video games relevant to an area of study. Games such as Skyrim would not be useful in an elementary classroom partially because of their controversial content; as well they are currently not designed with education in mind only making them useful therefore as a medium for analysis. Conversely a video game named Assassins Creed 3 demonstrates how video games could be used to teach history in a high school setting. A sequence of this game allows the player to control a fictional character and participate in the Boston Tea Party, throwing boxes of tea into the Boston harbor, in doing so the player would be able to experience a fairly accurate interaction with this important historical event. Many have often fantasized about lessons taught through their interactions with video games; however until later in education this seems like an idea that could not be deemed suitable or relevant.

Problems With Technology in the Classroom

There are places where technology serves a good purpose in the classroom, just as there are places where it does not. Ideas such as getting an iPad into the hands every teenager who steps into a high school classroom is a definite possibility for the future of education, it is also a plan with a lot of potential problems. According to Ryan Lawson, the director of technology at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, “the lack of remote monitoring makes the iPad vulnerable to misuse by young people and thus more of a burden than a blessing in the quest for academic excellence”[article]. Many tech savvy adults seem to be mesmerized with the rapid advancement new technology and are trying to integrate it into classrooms; they are doing this without putting much thought into the realistic applications of this technology. The current generation of youth is perhaps the most easily distracted when compared to all those that came before it, using all of this new technology for entertainment purposes mostly. If an entire classroom of 13 year olds were handed iPads and told they were to use them in class, every class, a common picture would be a class full of high school kids playing Angry Birds while their teacher guides them through a power point. This level of technology integration does not have a remote possibility of succeeding and as it is based on the use of consumer products originally designed for entertainment as opposed to education.

Another significant problem with integrating technology into the classroom is that the applications available to teachers are largely limiting and difficult to use. Classes taught through a mixture of Microsoft Power Point and Youtube videos often fail to excite students as they often give the impression of being disjointed and unpolished. A peer review journal describes how blogging is a good way to teach with technology and describes school designed software "cumbersome and expensive". There are however issues with blogging as it is also not easy for everyone to use since it has not been designed specifically for classrooms. Greater amounts of funding should to be put into place to develop educational software with an accessible user interface to allow teachers to seamlessly integrate media into their lesson plans. Such software would give teachers the tools necessary to create media integrated lessons displaying a range of notes, film clips, audio clips, interesting visuals, links and student interactivity in a seamless comprehensive presentation. This way, students will be encouraged to engage with the subject matter, rather than being bored to death by the gimmicky nature of most current classroom technology used.

How Technology Should Be Integrated in the Classroom

Technology has become so relevant in our lives that it only makes sense to teach future generations how to use it. Such a generation would be able to use technology more effectively than previous generations as they were never efficiently taught to use it. If comprehensive media integration becomes present in all stages of the education process, graduates should come out of the school with a full understanding of what these technologies have to offer. By being given an education where students are able to interact with the lessons inside the classroom and outside of school they will be well prepared to deal with technology in the professional world. While it is still unclear the exact platform necessary to allow students to interact with technology, any technology introduced as a permanent part of the digital classroom setting should be designed with education in mind. Polish and purpose are the essence of how media should be incorporation in the classroom, so that it is organized, streamlined, and visually engaging in order to avoid confusing students.