Junior Kelly Borgstrom has no cell phone, computer, or internet in her home, and likes it that way. She does research using books from the library, and hand writes all of her assignments. If a teacher insists it must be typed, she will use her typewriter. Having and using technology constantly inside and outside of the classroom is a norm for Tam students, but no one really considers that there may be people who don’t, or don’t want to, live like this.
Technology has taken over our lives, and it is taking over the classroom as well. According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans own smartphones, and 90 percent of Americans are active internet users, as of January 2017. According to Google, their “G Suite for Education,” which includes tools like Google Classroom and Google Docs, is now used by 70 million students worldwide. Google Classroom can erase the need for paper documents and even class discussions, by utilizing the commenting feature on class posts. But how does this impact learning? Some believe technology can serve as a wonderful resource, for research, communication, and collaboration, but others say it’s a massive distraction that threatens academic integrity. With technology becoming more and more prevalent in the classroom, is it helping or hindering education?
Google Classroom, the online classroom interface introduced in August of 2014, is a way for teachers to organize assignments and easily connect with students, and gives students a way to collaborate with classmates and turn in assignments. Spanish teacher Leah Ramsey uses Google Classroom as a way to hand out assignments and have students turn them in digitally, which helped her immensely while she was absent for jury duty for nearly a month in October and November. Ramsey turned to Google Classroom to run her class when she was gone, which allowed her to monitor and leave feedback on student work without being in class.
“It definitely worked out significantly better than trying to leave a bunch of copies for students … If I had had more time to think through I could … really run a course on Google Classroom,” she said. Even though it is possible to run an entire class online, she does not think it would replace the classroom model that has been used for over a century. “I don’t think that it will completely replace the traditional classroom model … But at the same time I could totally imagine it being an option. I could really imagine a near near future, even in our district, we had say a teacher teaching four regular classroom classes, and one online.”
Junior Hannah Alpert, one of Ramsey’s students, felt that the online class was set up well, but wasn’t effective for a Spanish class.
“Because it’s a Spanish class, none of our substitutes could help us at all. Ms. Ramsey did an amazing job getting everything set up on Google Classroom and it was all very accessible, but I still would prefer class with the teacher there,” she said. Alpert believes that having class online like this could work for some types of classes, but not Spanish, as it is mostly discussion-based and often requires a teacher for support. “I can see this working long-term in classes like math that focus on content only instead of application, but classes like Spanish are hard because you need to learn how to make conversation in the language,” she added.
Ramsey also uses other apps and websites to keep the classroom engaging for students, which she feels helps them learn better. “There are so many options out there that allow you to keep things novel and new, and I think that that is really essential to learning, because experiences that are novel stick with us,” Ramsey said. She uses games such as Kahoot, Quizlet, and Plickers as a fun way to practice material in class, and even prepare for AP testing. “ [AP testing is] typically such a solitary experience, and I think that to make that experience more collective and more interactive, will just support people’s understanding of the questions and how to find the right answer.”
Alpert, among many other students, enjoys using digital learning games in class because they are fun and engaging, and break up the monotony of long classes. “It’s hard to stay concentrated on a topic for an hour and a half, and breaking up the class with online games is super helpful,” she said.
“I live for Quizlet!” freshman Isabel Lagier declared, very enthusiastically. Lagier frequently utilizes online studying resources such as Quizlet and Kahoot, especially in French class.
According to a study by McGraw Hill Education, 86 percent of the 2,600 U.S. college students surveyed reported that technology helps them be more effective and efficient students, and 91 percent of students said adaptive capabilities in a digital study tool are “important” or “very important.”
Yet the constant access to technology in the classroom presents the issue of distraction. When students use their own phones or computers in class, it is very easy to get distracted by messages, social media, and more. “I think it’s just human nature that you’re gonna open your personal email, or what have you,” said Ramsey. Although all devices in class have the potential to be distracting, she mentioned “I definitely think the chromebooks help to focus, when compared to a student’s personal device.”
Social studies teacher Nathan Bernstein has also experienced issues with distractions when using computers in class, but has noticed trends in the students who are most distracted. “…the same kids that would get distracted by the computers are the same kids who get distracted by, you know, the fan in class, or by drawing,” he said. Bernstein also said that Tam now has access to the GoGuardian software on the chromebooks, which allows teachers to monitor everything students are doing on their computers. “…now teachers can actually see everything on a computer screen, which is like kinda creepy big brother ish, but it also allows you to keep kids on task, so I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about that either.”
“That’s weird. Not a fan, not a fan at all,” remarked Junior Alexis Ramachandran, regarding the GoGuardian system mention by Bernstein. Ramachandran, a former student of Bernstein, never felt inclined to use the chromebook for anything other than classwork in his class, because he kept it entertaining. She added that if the class was not as fun, the chromebooks would have served as a distraction for her.
In attempt to monitor cheating on assignments, Tam recently bought a license for turnitin.com, a place where students can turn in assignments to be scanned for plagiarism. “I think as much as technology gets used constructively in classrooms, it also gets used for cheating,” said English teacher Austin Bah. He has been teaching for nearly 30 years, and has noticed that with the rise of technology has come a rise in cheating. “One of the reasons why I hardly ever have students do a take-home essay is the temptation to go to other sources,” he said. By giving in-class essays students don’t have the ability to consult other sources, so their work is entirely their own.
Kelly Borgstrom has never felt drawn to technology like her peers, and didn’t realize until high school that she did not have to use it if she didn’t want to. “I feel like everyone assumes that everyone wants to do [schoolwork] digitally, but not all people do,” said Borgstrom. Even if a teacher has chromebooks in the classroom, she won’t reach for one unless she absolutely has to. “If I have computers at school, I just don’t really want to use them. I prefer to use books,” she said. If Borgstrom absolutely needs the internet for something, like a project or assignment that must be done online, she will reluctantly use the public library near her home. Overall, Borgstrom does not feel like she is put at a disadvantage by not using technology. “Most teachers I have don’t care if I turn in paper instead of digital assignments, and some of them even appreciate that I still use a book and a typewriter to do homework,” she said.
According to the research organization Child Trends, 79 percent of U.S. children ages five to 17 had computers at home in 2013, a number that continues to rise every year. Household income also correlates to computer access at home. 49 percent of children in households with an income of less than $15,000 per year have access to computers, compared to 94 percent in households with an income over $75,000 per year. “I have had students who have written essays on their phones, because they don’t have computers, and to me that’s an injustice […] it’s usually a kid who’s economically disadvantaged, maybe part of a minority group,” said Bah. “Its common for most teachers now to expect students to turn in some typed papers, particularly in English and Social studies…if every kid doesn’t have access to being able to do that, that’s an inequity.”
Bernstein is aware that some students don’t have access to computers at home, which puts them at a disadvantage in the classroom. He does not assign a lot of homework, which he believes is a remedy to an achievement gap that may form due to limited computer access at home. “…certain kids are just really good at Google Docs because they have had them in the home, they’ve done it with their parents, and the [kid] who doesn’t have a computer at home comes into class and this is a foreign language to them,” he said.
Computers and other technology in class require constant maintenance to function, and can even ruin a lesson if not dealt with. “If the internet connection fails, and you were really depending on it for your lesson, I mean that’s really hard to get around,” Ramsey said. She also mentions that now that we are so dependent on technology, it can be really difficult to give a lesson if the internet is down or equipment is not working, because often backup lessons involve technology as well.
“I am not a fan of using the chromebook computers because the version that the school has is very old and bad,” Lagier said. “However, I do feel like the computers help me learn different things, and can be very helpful for projects when you have to research stuff in class.” Freshman Mariella Todebush agrees with Lagier that the chromebooks are a helpful resource for research, but also does not like using them in class because “they’re really glitchy.”
Although some students may have issues with computer based assignments, they will be forced to adapt as technology becomes more prevalent. Technology, as the ever-growing power that it is, will continue to advance and further revolutionize education as we know it. Should we surrender to its reign, or fight to keep old styles of teaching alive? To some that is an easy decision, and for others, not so much. Borgstrom, for one, plans to stay steadfast to her vintage ways. “F*ck digital technology,” she said, “Yeah, that’s a good title. Quote me on that one.”