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What is Technology's Affect on Those Formerly Doing Poorly in Academic Settings?

Over the past two decades, the use of technology in classrooms across the United States has skyrocketed. Whether a school district is affluent or underfunded, technology has still managed to play a role in education, as districts attempt to prepare students for higher education and the need for a more skilled workforce. But evidence suggests that technology's integration into the classroom has not resulted in higher test scores. The New York Times reported:

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.1)

The New York Times article supports what has become a growing opinion. The 1990s saw a fear that an undereducated American workforce would fall victim to a lack of education and thus lose in the competitive, globalized economy, so money poured into classroom technology. However, the results are less than thrilling for tests scores and educational improvement. But a Huffington Post article counters the opinions represented in the New York Times article:

We have schools and classrooms that are still doing what they’ve always done, but with some additional infrequent and marginal uses of new learning tools. We have educators who don’t really know how to use the tools very well and who also have little access to those tools, reliable IT support, and/or regular integration assistance. For some reason we expect changes in certain learning outcomes to occur anyway, despite these environmental factors and despite the fact that those outcomes may not be what the schools were striving for in the first place. And, if we don’t see those outcomes, we’re going to claim it’s the fault of the technologies themselves rather than human and system factors and then we’re going to claim that traditional analog learning environments are just fine in a digital, global world.2)

The truth of technology's role in improving the results of both poor and affluent school districts alike is probably somewhere in the middle. Just because test scores do not increase when technology is embraced does not mean a district should turn back the clock and abandon all technological measures. Society has yet to figure out the role of technology as a whole and education is no different than any other segment of society. A middle ground can and should be found instead of relying totally on one way of doing things, because it is still very hard to gauge the worth of technology to students.3)

A study published on perfectly exemplifies how a more traditional approach that is formed to students' needs, coupled with proper allocation of technology results in better outcomes. The study states:

There are several studies of promising new teaching methods that use technology based learning, personalized approaches, and increased instructional time. One study found that middle schools and high schools that adopted an Algebra I curriculum that used a personalized, blended learning approach [that ensures students master subjects before progressing] significantly boosted high school Algebra scores by enough to move a student at the 50th to the 58th percentile. Another study found that teachers who used classroom connectivity technology in Algebra I led to a statistically significant effect on achievement. An additional study found that doubling math instructional time for underprepared high school freshmen through a teaching strategy that allowed students to develop intermediate math skills before moving on to Algebra instruction improved math achievement and led to more positive attitudes about math.4)

Typically, the reasons for doing poorly to begin with are tied to economics and underfunding. Because of this, the role of technology in the classroom is tied to barriers of entry. Even if technology can improve test scores, underprivileged students need the funding to gain access to technology. The Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, on Chicago's South Side, sees 24 computers shared by over one thousand students. Nick Pandolfo reported:

Even though Chicago Public Schools reports spending about $40 million a year on technology, Bronzeville Scholastic lags behind its peers and exemplifies a dangerous disparity that exists in the United States, according to Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. “Chicago in particular probably highlights the digital divide that's across the country,” Patrick said. “Some schools may have access to one-to-one pilots, and other schools have old infrastructure that is barely functional, so that kids don't have access to the computers.”5)

Chicago's Bronzeville Scholastic Institue faces the problems many urban schools face. Underfunding, overcrowding, and a lack of access creates a digital divide that leaves students poorly prepared for both further education and employment.6)

Does Technology Change the Relationship Between Facts and Skills in Education?

The amount that technology changes the relationship between facts and skills is directly correlated to the amount of technology being adopted by an given classroom. The more technology is adopted, the more facts give way to skills, and the more technology-related problems begin popping up.

One clear technological dilemma in the classroom is cheating, which directly undermines the fact-based memorization model of traditional education. In the journal Postsecondary Education in the United States an article entitled “E-learning in Postsecondary Education” examined several studies pertaining to cheating. The studies claimed the following results:

In 2006, Mark Lanier surveyed 1,262 students at a large, state-funded university and found that self-reported cheating was more prevalent in online classes than in traditional lecture courses.50 In 2000 Kristen Kennedy and several colleagues found that both students and administrators believe it is easier to cheat in distance learning classes. Kenneth Chapman and several colleagues conducted a survey of 824 business students, both undergraduate and graduate, and found that approximately 75 percent admitted to cheating at some point in their courses. Among those who had taken an e-learning course, 24 percent admitted to having cheated on a web-based examination. More strikingly, 42 percent indicated that they would cheat on electronic exams if given the opportunity. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also reported a set of alarming findings pertaining to faculty and administrative toleration of academic dishonesty in online courses at for-profit institutions. 7)

The studies represent an interesting conundrum. While using technology to cheat is abhorred in a traditional, fact-based memorization model, is using technology actually a type of skill? If students are being trained to exist in tech-driven work environment, it might better serve students to use the best means at their disposal for completing a task. This concept turns what was once considered cheating into a type of skill that will better serve them in their future endeavors.

There is a recognition of the failure of a fact-based model as the information explosion has put a tremendous amount of memorization pressure on students that is too much to ask. Technology might hold the answer by affording the opportunity to learn skills as opposed to assigning large memorization tasks ill-suited to real world activities. reported:

Cheryl Hollinger has taught Advanced Placement biology at Central York High School in Pennsylvania for 17 years, plenty of time to see what isn't working. The amount of material covered is “overwhelming,” she says; the 1,280-page textbook “is way too big to go in depth.” Students go through the motions of their lab assignments without grasping why, and “the exam is largely a vocabulary test.” That all changes this fall, however, with a new curriculum that lasers in on just three body systems (down from 11); requires fewer but more creative biology labs, and entails an AP exam assessing reasoning skills rather than factoid recall. “I'm excited,” says Hollinger, who welcomes the prospect of getting students “to think and act like scientists.”8)

While there are positive policy developments, the conflict between the fact-based memorization model and the skill-based employment preparation model grows larger as the pace of technological advancement increases. An article titled “The Influence of Teachers' Technology Use on Instructional Practices” laid out the conflict:

Educators struggle with the problem of overcoming the inertia of instructioal practices in the traditional classroom (Trimble,2003). In these traditional classrooms, students are typically not provided with whole, dynamic learning experiences, but rather with limited, arbitrary activities. Schools frequently teach information from the various disciplines without providing adequate con-textual support with opportunities for students to apply what they are taught. “The resulting inauthenticity of classroom activity makes it difficult for children to see how school learning applies to their lives”9)

Technology in the classroom may be considered a tool for learning, as some might think but can also bring about a few issues. One issue being, the ability of teachers maintaining their students’ attention. Access to Internet, allows students the opportunity to research information rather than listen to their teacher’s lecture. Consequently, threatening the teacher’s ability to teach. This brings up the question, does technology help students? The article, “Most Powerful Tool in the Classroom” from reports:

“The hard truth is that the tech-savvy students of today do not want to be lectured to about facts they can instantly find with the click of a button on their smart phones. Siri can often give a more comprehensive answer than many of us on any given topic. Therefore, the honest truth is that HOW we teach must change. Making students memorize rote facts and regurgitate them is no longer sensible, and educators now have the opportunity to have students think much more critically, solve problems, and use their creativity in ways they never have been pushed to do in the past.”1)

It remains to be seen how much the relationship between facts and skills will change, but the chase for skill sets is pressuring strict memorization in a school setting, and technology has a role in the transformation. Oddly enough, test scores do not seem to be improving with added tech in classrooms, so the educational environment remains in constant flux.

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