Monday, November 30, 2009

The Impact of Technology in the Classroom

In August, a Communications of ACM article had me thinking about whether technology has become a need in education. Today, a friend of a friend is going to interview me on the impact that technology has already had, forcing me to think about things from a different perspective.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately about technology and education, both because my general research interest is in educational entertainment, and because my current term project for my computers and cognition class revolves around the cognitive advantages of using augmented reality for learning. One book that I've been really enjoying is Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Educational Games. In a discussion on participatory simulations, the author, Eric Klopfer, said a few things that made an awful lot of sense to me.

For instance, many of the technologies we use today in elementary and high schools don't really give us anything we couldn't do before; instead, we can now do the same old things in slightly more efficient or interesting ways. Take Internet research: this is just a quicker way of doing what we used to do in libraries. Or blogs: we can see blogging assignments as a more modern way of yesterday's book reports and creative writing assignments. Sure, all these mediums add something interesting to the mix, such as being able to share your work and even collaborate with the rest of the world, but the basic way of learning is the same.

Klopfer points out that it's not even a good idea to try and make teachers learn to do new things in new ways all at once. They are overloaded enough as it is. Instead, he suggests giving them more new ways of doing what they already know how to do. That's why his team at MIT designed hand held mobile games that were not terribly different from traditional participatory activities found in classrooms. They still allowed the teacher to moderate the activity, lead discussion before and after, have students form groups and work together naturally, and so on. The games simply allowed for a more complex, data driven activity to unfold; something that would be rather difficult to prepare for on paper.

Perhaps once everyone is comfortable with doing old things in new ways, we can then bring in technologies that change the way students learn in general. I expect that as augmented reality matures, it could become such a technology. It might help students learn higher level problem solving skills in new ways we can't even quite imagine yet.

Whatever happens in the future, it's clear that technology will be here to stay. We might as well start thinking about how we can push the limits now!


Anonymous said...

I think that there are two problems with technology in education:
1. Most technology sucks.
2. Very few know how to use it right.

Case in point: PowerPoint abuse. It's very hard to teach a PowerPoint class properly, especially if it's a technical class. I've only had one engineering professor use PowerPoint and he's an awesome teacher and really put a lot of work into the PowerPoints, but I've seen lots of presenters simply kill it. When I go to a technical class, I can't just sit there and absorb the material: I want to see the way they think when they work out problems and that's very hard to do with PP, but very easy with chalk and a board.

My personal beef is with IDEs for beginners. They are all, by and large either text editors with Run buttons which doesn't help beginners at all. I think one of my later projects will be to build a tricked out beginner's IDE.

And you just gave me the topic for my next blog post. Stay tuned.

Gail Carmichael said...

I definitely agree on the PowerPoint. I hate what the status quo has become on that. The angle of this post if more about technology students can use, but looking at what just the teacher uses would be pretty interesting.

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