Back to School

Technology takes top seat in the classroom
By Phil Fishman / July 1, 2014

Yesterday's classroom: Rows of wooden desks face a marked up blackboard replete with dusty erasers and small pieces of white or yellow chalk. Your teacher stands in front of the class, asking for quiet and begins to discuss the homework assignment or today's lesson. You pray you're not called to answer a question. instead, you stare into your textbook, looking for divine intervention.

Today's classroom: You are still looking down, but not immersed in a book. Perhaps you are peering into a smartphone or texting a friend. A computer or iPad sits on your desk and an article from an academic search engine is being analyzed in class. Your instructor is looking at the same piece from an overhead projector. The room is quiet- students are engaged and seem genuinely involved in the lesson.

When a group of new students arrive for the next class, their teacher calmly informs them that the course syllabus, all future homework assignments and any test grades will be posted on their "Blackboard" online accounts. Hard copy paperwork, traditionally distributed in class, has become a dinosaur - as anachronistic as the one room schoolhouse.
Back to School

Technology has had a profound and, in most instances, a truly positive effect within the academic world. Immediate access to courses, textbooks and libraries has become the norm. A video webcam lecture can be seen anywhere, anytime on social media sites such on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. or iTunes and YouTube.

Gaming, long a popular activity for the savvy computer geek, is being utilized in schools as a teaching tool. You might find the popular internet phenom "Angry Birds" chirping within a physics lesson. Tune into Minecraft and learn to construct and maintain an imaginary world.

Online courses dot the collegiate landscape. Unable to enroll in a required course for credit? No problem--just sign up for the computerized, digital version and learn from the comfort of your office or living room. Distance Learning programs offer fully accredited degrees from major universities which also offer high school diplomas - all earned from a desktop, laptop or tablet.

You may want to collaborate with another student in a foreign country about a story you are both visualizing simultaneously. Sign onto Skype and see this person in the flesh.

What is the impact of this classroom technological revolution? Statistics and recent surveys support tech's positive effects. IT Opportunities in the Education Market revealed that 78 percent of K-12 teachers and administrators believed technology has positively impacted the classroom and student productivity.

At the college level, many veteran instructors notice more active, enthusiastic undergrads who seem more attentive about their studies, but questions still remain. Are today's students more academically successful? Are they indeed learning more and getting better grades? One of my teaching colleagues recently remarked about this dilemma as he commented upon the quality and expertise displayed when his class presented visual interpretations of renowned authors and their work.

"My students may have serious issues when composing a coherent paragraph or correctly using proper grammar and punctuation, but their PowerPoint presentations are remarkably polished, creative and highly professional," he said, adding: "I wish they could write this well."

Perhaps soon, they will. In the best brave new world, students will be as language savvy as they are computer literate.

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