3 Ways Technology Can Fix Education
As the use of technology becomes more and more prevalent in schools, concerns have popped up about its ubiquity in schools. Some will even go as far as to say that technology will ruin education in America.
For better or worse, the various educational technologies are here to stay. In fact, they can and have made an impact on K-12 education today. Here are three areas in which technology can actually improve the quality of education in our country:
- High school graduation rates. We have recently experienced the highest graduation rate the country has seen since 1974. Educators are collectively working harder to help students make it to the high school finish line and get prepared for college and the workforce. There is a lot of credit to be handed out for the successful graduation rates around the country (of course, there are still plenty of areas for improvement) but I think one shining area deserves a lot of the praise: technology.
The website DropoutPrevention.org singles out technology as a leader in high school graduation upsurge. The site states:
“Educational technology is needed for a variety of reasons. It provides an alternative method of learning for those who struggle to learn using traditional methods.
Technology can be used to address multiple intelligences and also to provide authentic learning experiences for students.”
In other words, technology has made it possible for students who fall off the traditional path to jump back on and finish what they spent most of their childhood working towards. This may be in the form of taking remote classes from home, remedial classes in on-campus computer labs or even by enrolling in full-time online schools, public or private.
Having in-classroom technology more directly impacts the graduation rate by providing customized learning experiences. A student who needs extra help on a particular topic need not hold up the entire class, or feel embarrassed asking for that help, when there are computer modules and tablet apps available for individual learning experiences. Teachers who spot a trouble area with a particular student can gear that teen towards more exercises to master the topic. Of course technology is not the magic wand to fix all problems, but it does allow for more flexibility of the learning process which in turn makes it easier for a wider group of students to stay in classrooms until the end of the K-12 journey.
- Students with disabilities. In 2011, 22 percent of non-institutionalized adults with disabilities had less than a high school education. If this statistic was applied to the general population, my suspicion is that there would be an outcry to reform K-12 education to have better graduation results. But for students with disabilities, there is no shock or outrage and that is something that has to change. The key to improving the educational experience for students with disabilities is better accommodations in schools and continued improvements in assistive technology.
Assistive technology in K-12 classrooms, by definition, is designed to “improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” While the word “technology” automatically conjures up images of cutting-edge electronics, some assistive technology is possible with just simple accommodations. Whether high-tech or simple in design, assistive technology has the ability to transform the learning experiences for the children who benefit.
Here is a look at strides being made in just a couple of common assistive technology areas:
Alternative input devices: These tools are designed to allow students with disabilities to use computers and related technology easily. Some alternative input devices include touch screens, modified keyboards and joysticks that direct a cursor through use of body parts like chins, hands or feet. Some up-and-coming technology in this area is sip-and-puff systems, developed by companies like Microsoft, to perform computer functions through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling. On-screen keyboards are another area of input technology that is providing K-12 learners with disabilities better use of computers and mobile devices for learning.
Sensory enhancers: Depending on the disability, children may need to learn differently than their peers. Instead of ABCs and numbers first, a child with language hindrances may benefit from bright pictures or colors to learn new concepts. Sensory enhancers may include voice analyzers, augmentative communication tools or speech synthesizers. With the rapid growth of technology in the classroom, these basic tools of assistive technology are seeing great strides.
- Urban students and the education achievement gap. Students in urban schools tend to have stereotypes attached to them. Rather than see these students as individual learners, many urban kids and their schools are often thrown into the “lost cause” category. Problems like deteriorating buildings and overcrowding often become too overwhelming for reformers.
In a 2009 article in the Harvard Political Review, writers Tiffany Wen and Jyoti Jasrasaria discuss the “myths of urban education.” The article points out that many people are quick to label urban schools as lost causes without actually investigating individual issues or how they can be resolved.
As with all aspects of K-12 improvement, finding the answers to higher achievement for urban students is a complicated process. I believe that technology can work to teacher and student advantages though. The implications of mobile technology in K-12 classrooms are still being realized but one thing is certain: more individualized learning is now possible. In cases where overcrowding is detrimental to learning experiences, mobile technology can serve as a placeholder teacher in terms of directing students and keeping them engaged in learning when the physical teacher is unavailable.
At its core, the American educational system is about democratization of knowledge for all students, regardless of their circumstances. Advancements in technology are making this more and more possible.