Technology in Education: How to Amplify the Upside

Technology is everywhere. To ever increasing degrees, it informs our daily lives and provides a framework for both work and recreation. Our youngest youths don’t remember life without it; I have friends with children who could navigate an iPhone before they could count to ten. However, for all its omnipresence, education is an area where we’re only now starting to understand technology’s effect on how students learn. It’s technology in education, and we’re only just beginning to explore the possibilities.

Not all of what we’re finding is what we expected. As we began to see the potential of technology, there was a widespread assumption that technology in education would provide a richer learning experience, leading to better student performance. However, a study released in 2015* of 15 year old students participating in an international academic standards test showed that those who spent 2 or more hours per day using the internet for academics actually performed worse in both math and reading.

“Those who spent 2 or more hours per day using the internet for academics actually performed worse in both math and reading.”

On the other hand, students do seem to benefit from having teachers with ready access to, and some training in, the latest technology.**

Additionally, much research is being done and some use cases show that technology is actually able to reach across developmental barriers for children who have Autism and other non-standard learning needs. One of the more heartwarming accounts, about a boy named Gus, can be found here.

What we’re starting to see is that we can’t assume that technology in education is an across the board benefit, but that it can be very powerful if we can continue to adapt our approach, being selective and intentional with what elements we incorporate into the learning environment.

However, the world is not waiting for best practices to be established. For the last nearly two decades, our classrooms and the students therein have been the test subjects. In some ways, many have paid the price for our learning with the currency of their own educations. And while our understanding is improving, it is also clarifying the next most pressing consideration: assuming that we find a system of using tech which is positive to overall education, and assuming that this highly directed method makes a substantial difference to the quality of education, how do we put these tools into the hands of every student, and not just the ones in the best funded areas?

“How do we put these tools into the hands of every student, and not just the ones in the best funded areas?”

As schools are seeking to achieve a 1:1 ratio of children with access to tech, some districts even allowing children to bring their own devices, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all devices are created equal. Studies are already showing a growing divide, where increasingly digitized education means that some children can and some cannot.

This continues to be a challenge and current assumptions are that by 2018, our schools will require an 18 billion dollar annual budget to acquire and maintain sufficient technology. This, however, is based on metrics for providing new technology, at roughly $600 per machine, instead of finding creative directions in the lifecycle of devices, ones which would reduce waste and provide resources for those who have legitimate need.

Tech does change quickly, and our social tendency can gravitate towards a newest or bust mindset, but as we’re learning the necessity of increased thoughtfulness in how we inject technology in education, perhaps it’s also time to increase thoughtfulness in our current method for the disposition of technology.

Supplying the technology in education.

One such possibility is discarded corporate machines. Now that providing a laptop to a new employee is a fairly standard practice among large enterprises, and since most enterprises only find those machines useful for the duration of their original warranty, usually three years, what we’re ending up with is large fleets of relatively new machines which could naturally transition into their second lives, so to speak, serving in education. And while data remediation might be the main obstacle to a solution like this, there are increasingly more services available to address this problem.

At the end of the day, despite the questions still unanswered and the challenges un-overcome, it’s encouraging to see the ways in which we’re asking ourselves the hard questions, willing to look at the veracity of effectiveness, rather than press blindly on with our original assumptions. Because, of course, it’s our legacy at stake. Our children and theirs will be the ones impacted by whether or not we proceed from this point with increasing disorder, or if we manage to become more thoughtful as we develop, considering our impact with forethought and conscience.

“It’s our legacy at stake.”


*by The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development