Guest Post: The Potential and Limitations of Technology in Idaho Education

Guest Post by Jeriann Ireland.

The use of technology in the classroom has both the capability of increasing efficiency and accelerating student learning and the potential to become a distraction. As such, technology in education is a pressing issue that teachers, parents, and students feel strongly about. Industry argues that knowledge of how to use technology is important for job-preparedness. Studies demonstrate that too much technology will stunt students’ emotional growth and prevent them from learning how to think. This dichotomy does not necessarily have to be at odds with each itself, but often is when it comes to discussions of funding and curriculum.

Where Idaho Stands on Technology in the Classroom

In 2011, legislation known as the “Luna Laws” passed that required all Idaho high school students to take some online classes to graduate. This legislation also mandated that students and teachers be given laptops or tablets. This sparked widespread backlash as it seemed to many like a “one-size fits all” approach. People were concerned that this was a move to replace teachers with computers, and that students who were not able to facilitate their own learning online would be left behind.

While encouraging familiarity with online education will certainly prepare many for college, not every student will be served well by it. Not every student has access to the internet at home, and making online courses accessible to everyone is a time and cost-heavy task. There were also concerns that this push was one for profits for online learning companies, including K-12, who runs the IDLA, which has donated to Tom Luna’s campaigns.

Likewise, the public debated whether paying for laptops and tablets would lead to more distractions than learning. If education is to teach people how to learn, then will giving them machines that provide countless shortcuts to learning be beneficial?

Very few people argue against expanding the accessibility of technology and technology education in the classroom. Rather, the current debate revolved around the best way to accomplish this. Is online learning a suitable substitute for hands-on curriculum in some courses? Are there ways to maximize technology as both a tool and a subject, while also focusing on individual students and their needs?

What the Research Shows

Of course, technology has both positive and negative impacts on students. Studies show that increased technology in the classroom fosters a more collaborative environment, giving students more ways to share their work with diverse audiences. It also makes it easier for students with autism to assert their independence. Teachers can use technology to better assess individual student needs and create action plans to fill in knowledge and learning gaps.

We’re surrounded by technology. Too much screen time has negative impacts on vision, sleeping patterns, and other physical functions. With increased technology in the classroom, parents might look toward increasing family time in nature, taking weekends away for camping trips and other activities that require children to “unplug”

As much as students may initially complain about their access to devices being limited, an NPR series showed that parents often push technology on their kids as much as kids ask for it. When sent to summer camps where phones were not allowed, parents often tried to sneak cell phones to their kids so they could have contact with them.

The desire for constant communication produces a reliance on technology that is hard to unlearn. Parents should consider how their use of technology impacts their children, being sure to exhibit healthy behavior like having no-device time slots throughout the day, not fiddling with phones and music devices while driving, and not constantly checking work email during family time.

An ongoing issue

This discussion is ongoing, and evolves as quickly as technology itself. With the Education Week Research Center ranking Idaho 46 in education among the 50 states, and funding per pupil at the bottom of the pack, conversations must continue about the best way to incorporate technology without making students reliant on it. Projects like the Idaho Technology Pilot Project fund temporary experiments incorporating technology into classrooms.

These incubators focus on providing support for students and improving learning outcomes, not replacing teachers and curriculum. If used correctly technology saves time and can open up more time for students to focus on challenging concepts and tangible skills they’ll need for the job market. When they spend less time on rote memorization and more time learning research strategies and how to determine the quality and validity of their sources, they’ll be more equipped for a world that exists increasingly online.

To learn more about the state of technology in Idaho Education, follow the IETA Conference, which targets IT and instructional educational professionals in Idaho. Reaching out to the local school district about what grants and other funding opportunities they are seeking to increase is a great first step to implementing more technology in the classroom.

Jeriann Ireland was born and raised in Nampa, Idaho. After a brief stint in Portland for college, she returned to live in Nampa and work as a writer in Boise. You can find more of her writing at dairyairhead.com, or follow her on twitter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s