Technology in education is a hot topic, and a regular source of fierce disagreement. On one team, there are the true tech believers, convinced that laptops and tablets will be the great panacea to all education woes. On the other side, there are the luddites, the skeptics, who buck at all attempts to bring screens of any kind into the classroom.
The rest of us fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes.
Argument of the True Believers: The internet connects anyone, anywhere in the world, with information about literally anything they want to know. It’s magic, and its opportunities are boundless. Let the utopia commence!
Argument of the Skeptics: The internet connects kids to information they have no ability to process, to nasty rhetoric and destructive imagery, not to mention an endless host of distractions that make learning all but impossible. Bring back the chalkboards!
It is this writer’s humble opinion that neither of these approaches is exactly right, though I tend to fall in much more naturally amongst Group Two. Teaching middle and high schoolers, I saw firsthand how quickly I lost students once their eyes were in front of a screen. (I’ve also had my own daily battles with putting down the phone. How many other adults pick up the phone to check email or a map, only to see text and Facebook notifications and become so distracted that they forget why they picked up the phone in the first place? Am I alone here?)
But technology is an inevitable part of students’ lives, and their ability to successfully use and parse the information available online is crucial to their academic development.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Mary Crovo and Cary Sneider of the National Assessment Governing Board. The group is responsible for putting out The Nation’s Report Card, which has been tracking student achievement in Reading and Math since the 1970s.
In 2015, their assessment included a technology literacy portion for the first time. Cary explained that their test covers three separate areas:
- A student’s ability to gather evidence & information from the internet and then communicate those ideas.
- A student’s ability to engage in engineering design & systems – identify a problem and solve it in a systematic way, including navigating troubleshooting and maintenance.
- Understanding how decisions made with technology affect society and the environment.
And it’s that final element of the assessment that interested me the most. Because the bigger question is whether or not we’re helping students process the implications of their online actions. I was thrilled to find out this aspect of teaching students about tech literacy is being addressed at a national level.
As Sneider put it, students need to understand “the idea that when you make a technological decision, there are often unintended side effects.” Sneider referenced the environmental impact of air conditioners on the ozone layer (then a “new” technology), and how that impact was completely unforeseen.
Going forward, addressing how technology will impact the personal lives of students is a key topic for educators to incorporate.
Sneider also emphasized the importance of field trips, and hands-on learning. Even a trip to the local library gives young people something new, something different to anchor their experience around – and that type of learning is invaluable.
You can watch the entire interview here.
Parents and teachers can find resources and more information at nationsreportcard.gov.