We live in exciting times when it comes to educational technology. Not only has technology been getting better and better for many years (at a nearly exponential rate), it has also gotten significantly more affordable.
But with the rise of technology comes downsides too. For one thing, distractions abound, from smartphones to online social networks to television to videogames. People — especially young people — spend hours upon hours each and every day staring at screens and interacting with devices that even science fiction writers wouldn’t have predicted would exist 20 years ago.
And it’s starting to show. Student achievement is falling or remaining stagnant by all measures. Why is this? Is it because students themselves are less capable? Hopefully not. They certainly have all the necessary tools for success at their disposal. The resources possessed by the average school today are far and away better than those of a “good” school from many years ago.
So is it the fault of the parents? Again, hopefully not. They say many parents these days spend less time with their children because they’re working so much, but I think that’s a bit of a cop out. I don’t subscribe to the belief that society is getting worse. Maybe we’re just more aware of it thanks to how easily information spreads these days, but people have always been lazy, uncaring, and all manner of other bad things.
That must mean teachers are getting worse, right? Honestly, I think not. I had many wonderful teachers growing up, and I know many wonderful people who decided to devote their careers to teaching students. Blaming teachers for everything is basically scapegoating, and I don’t think that’s fair.
The source of the problem, I think, lies with the solution: technology. With each passing year, technology gets better and better and our lives are changed — sometimes drastically. Do you remember when you first learned about the internet or used your first smartphone? For me, these events were absolutely life-changing, and I say that without hyperbole.
It’s not to say that I could never live in a world without those things (not that I would choose to!), but that the amount of work these inventions save me each and every day is astounding. The list of random things I no longer have to do thanks to new technology could fill a book, and I am truly grateful for it. These advancements allow me to focus my life on other, more useful and satisfying pursuits.
But a change of focus necessitates a reevaluation of what we teach our children. We can no longer waste time teaching kids things that they will simply not need once they get out of school. A couple examples: I never write in cursive, but I do use my phone to send important emails and texts regularly. I don’t remember how to use a library card catalog system, but I can find nearly anything on the internet. I almost never do complex mental math, but I can use a scientific calculator quite well.
In some cases, I was introduced to these things in school. I learned how to type in elementary school, I was introduced to the internet for research, and I had to buy a TI-83 for math class. But I only received a cursory education about each.
I perfected my typing skills by using instant messaging programs and playing online videogames. I figured out how to find (and analyze) truly useful online information when I began work as a research associate at a public policy institute. And I had to teach myself how to program my TI-83 to do my work for me so that I would never have to do a complicated formula again.
These skills that I list are some of the most useful skills that I posses, and they were not adequately honed by a school system that is stuck teaching skills from the past. Education needs to be dynamic, now more so than ever. The best way to do that is to harness the awesome power of educational technology. Only then will we be able to churn out students ready to succeed in the modern world.
If you are a teacher, librarian, or media specialist and are looking to increase the use of educational technology at your school for free, check out The Back to School Giveaway. You can enter simply by leaving a comment on the page, and there is $150,000 worth in premium edtech content available to winners, contributed by six different companies.
If you’re not an educator but know one that might be interested in entering, please feel free to spread the word. We are accepting entries until the end of this month.