Two years ago marked the beginning of the “Ed-Tech Startup Boom,” according to the EdTech Times. The trend won’t cease for many years to come. CB Insights notes that ed-tech venture capital is booming. In 2009, VCs put down $385 million into the industry. In the following five years, that number jumped 385% to $1.86 billion. And while some are concerned about a potential ed-tech bubble, there is a greater, and perhaps more important question that others are asking.
Is educational technology really good for young, developing minds?
The problem with education technology
Ed-tech detractors have gained steady ground as venture capital money has started to permeate the ed-tech market. In 2012, for example, Paul Thomas wrote for The New York Times, “Reading a young adult novel on a Kindle or an iPad, or in paperback form, proves irrelevant if children do not want to read or struggle to comprehend the text. Good teachers, however, can make the text come alive for the children whether it’s on a glowing screen or a piece of paper.”
Thomas may very well have a point; all-too many schools are quick to adopt the latest technology (remember Laserdisc?) only to quickly replace it with the newest gadget, without adherence to the cost or the actual benefit to a child’s education.
As for a child’s cognitive development, Psychology Today warns that the Internet creates an environment where “Consistent attention is impossible, imagination is unnecessary, and memory is inhibited.” An onslaught of distraction and novel information is to blame, they add. The article adds that studies have shown that those who are learning demonstrate a better recollection of what they have learned and understanding of the topic than those who are bombarded with visual stimulation (like ads and hyperlinks), sounds, and other stimuli.
But technology has its benefits
But that isn’t to say all education technology is bad. For example, video games are often heralded as a gateway to quickened cognitive development. They have been shown to enhance working memory in seven- to nine-year-olds and have been used as an effective tool to prepare kids for Common Core exams. An article in Edutopia also adds that the purpose of education technology is largely to prepare kids for the working world—an environment, in the United States, that is increasingly focused on technological skill and comfort.
More notably, if the purpose of this “new” education is largely to prepare kids for the working world, then they will enter a world where so much information that once had to be memorized is one Google away—rote memorization is hardly a valued skill in most workplaces to begin with.
The answer is purposeful balance
The question on whether education technology is “good” is far more nuanced than “yes” or “no.” Educators should take advantage of the massive benefits education technology can provide—the opportunity for appealing to all learning styles, workforce preparedness, environmental benefits, and easing the teaching process—while also heeding the warnings psychologists have given for avoiding education technology altogether.
Such a balance can be reached—and it should be. Take studies on blended learning—a survey by Echo360 found that a strong majority (84%) of students report that they learn concepts best when using both in-class and online tools as opposed to just one or the other.
While blending the learning process, educators and educational administrators should look into which technologies will necessarily teach core concepts that can be used well into the workforce. For example, organization skills are a notoriously difficult skill for young students to learn—one fifth grade teacher took to the Web for help, exasperatedly declaring, “I often find myself spending more time helping my students get organized than teaching academic skills.”
Instead of following the traditional advice of providing students with three-ring binders and adding more notecards and to-do lists to a poor disorganized student’s backpack, introduce the child to software options that can help organize their life. Learning how to find and use these tools is an essential skill for these kids as they grow older and enter the workforce (consider as an adult: what would happen to your school if you never even tried school administration software?).
There’s clearly a balance to be struck: use education technology, but don’t use it to the point of turning your classroom into a bunch of Stepford children.
How much should education technology be used in the classroom? What has your experience been with ed-tech? Leave your thoughts and comments below!