Does Technology Enhance or Harm?

I have used technology since I was in elementary school and I have owned a cell phone since I was 16. So on one hand I feel like I understand why students use their phone so much. But I have been teaching for seven years, and I really do understand the pain technology can cause in the classroom.

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For the majority of my teaching career I would fight students about their use of technology. I would constantly tell them to get on task, off their phones, off Facebook. Almost every semester I debated taking cell phones away all together. In the article Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away. They explain that “research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture.”


Photo Credit: Christoph Scholz Flickr via Compfight cc

I know this is true because I see my students do it everyday, mostly with Snapchat, but it still happening. Furthermore, I know it is true because I am guilty of this! The article states that students learn more when they write information out. We have been hearing this for years. I often make my students write out important definitions because I think the retain the information more. They do not like writing, but we spend so much time on the computer that it changes our lessons up a bit, and I think they benefit.

The article Research: College Students More Distracted Than Ever  claims” in 2013 30 percent of students self-reported that they used a digital device more than 10 times for non-learning reasons during class-time, in 2015 the count rose to 34 percent.” Students are constantly using devices for texting, social networking, or gaming. When students receive poor grades or they don’t hand in work the students in my classroom say the same things as in the study: they “don’t pay attention” and 80.5 percent listed “miss instruction.” They know what they are doing will negatively impact their learning, but do it anyway.

When I moved to Campus Regina Public, my position on technology really changed. We are core classes (ELA, Math, Social etc.) combined with electives (Auto, Welding) so we no longer had text books. We 100% had to rely on technology, and as you know there is not an abundance of technology in any high school right now. Incorporating cell phones and computers into my daily lessons was mandatory in order to get anything done.

Our first debate, Does technology in the classroom enhance learning, is a debate I have been having with myself and colleagues for years. While expressing my frustrations with technology with other staff members I was always met  with one of two sides:

  1. They totally agreed with me and often told me the method they used to reduce technology misuse in their classrooms
  2. They explained: students need to understand time and place with cell phones. They need to be taught when to use them and how to use them properly, and if they still misuse technology, then that’s not your fault and maybe they need to learn that lesson.

And I chose the second approach!

My class is partnered with Capital Auto Mall, and at work, the employers have a zero tolerance for cell phones. It is a safety issue as well as an employability issue. So I am lucky that we get to back up our thoughts about technology misuse with our corporate partners. In the shop, students are not allowed to be on their cell phones, and when they come to ELA they are taught time and place. We constantly ask them, should you be on that website or app right now? Are you being employable? How much money would you have wasted your boss? And for most students it actually works.

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When we were speaking in class yesterday, I was going to chime in about how CRP does receive backlash from students about our cell phone policies in the shop. Some students really buy into the idea, and understand the employability aspect, but some students have a hard time with it. I find that students are defensive over their technology. They think it is a right to use it when they want. When the students hear our rules, they are defiant at first, express that they have a right to have it or use it, or that their parents are calling them and they must have it out. It does take time, but eventually most do understand that we are trying to teach them proper use of their devices.

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I was surprised to find that many of the reasons why I felt like technology was detrimental to learning were the thoughts expressed in our debate. As Amy, Wendy and Kyla explained there are many disadvantages to technology in the classroom. One of the largest reasons was cost. Not every classroom has access to technology and this is frustrating to teachers and students. When we do have access to the technology, it does not work properly or the sites do not work. They explain that technology is just a tool and that in a way it is killing creativity and they do not prepare students for jobs without technology.

I think it is important to note that although I see their side about technology being a distraction in school,  I also see the value in teaching the students time and place. I think that this is the most important lesson we can teach students right now. I really believe that this is not a lesson they just learn as they grow older. They need to practice this behavior so it does not effect their futures.

I also liked that they talked about how the teachers role is important, that technology can be a distraction and that it is up to the teacher to implement the lesson in a way that engages students. I love teaching lessons that I am involved in, that the students are participating in and we have great discussions… but I think this can be done in conjunction with technology.

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In the article Technology can close achievement gaps, improve learning they explain how it needs to be “the right blend of teachers and technology.” It needs to be a team effort. Students need a teacher to explain the lesson, the importance of the lesson and model for them.  This is the teacher’s role. Then teachers should use the technology to further that lesson and demonstrate that lesson so students are prepared for real life. As the debate went on I realized that I was much more on the agree side of technology enhancing learning then the disagree side.

Katie, Jana and Kirsten explain that the most important part of using technology in the classroom was making sure teachers use technology effectively. We need to prepare students for the future. It ensures our students are up to date with information, can access information anywhere and also helps teachers get to students who need one on one attention. I agreed wholeheartedly about this. The fact that our students are training with programs that will help them later in life is very important. It is also imperative that my students get immediate feedback on their writing. I use Google Docs and make edits right on their page. I have never had more success with editing and rough drafts. The students get it back quickly enough that they haven’t forgotten in and their writing tends to improve. I really liked how they used the SAMR model. I like this because at first I was just using Google Docs as a substitute. But as I researched it, I found that I could comment, it auto saved for students and that they could access their work anywhere. Learning how to use the technology properly was essential to enhancing my students learning.

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In the article Technology can close achievement gaps, improve learning they also explain that “technology – when implemented properly -can produce significant gains in student achievement and boost engagement, particularly among students most at risk.” I think this has been proven in my class. Having the students constantly improve their writing in real time has improved their writing skills. Many of my students have never written a full essay, but with guidance and editing they get there.

I think that I have finally found that perfect balance of using technology in my classroom, and teaching students how to properly use their technology. I think our debaters hit the topic perfectly. We discussed the impact technology has had positively and negatively and now it is our choice on how we approach the situation! I do not think technology is going away anytime soon. And it is important for our students to learn how to use it properly.

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5 thoughts on “Does Technology Enhance or Harm?

  1. I have to agree with your summation that, regardless of which side of the debate one chooses, teachers must use technology effectively. The use to tech tools to enhance and expand learning opportunities is essential for our students and their future. Unfortunately, I also think that there is huge disparity between schools and teachers regarding accessibility to tech and expertise of implementation. Sometimes, teachers are loathe to include technology for anything beyond word processing because of lack of regular accessibility to tech or lack of knowledge about how to effectively use it within curricular expectations.
    As well, I have to agree with your comment on the distraction of Snapchat and other apps to students and their learning. However, as I stated in class, I would rather deal with those distractions as a learning opportunity rather than a complete ban on devices, leading to sneakiness and unguided uses of tech.
    The fact that you were able to make the reality of cell phone use (or not) a real life connection for your teaching position at CRP is excellent! Students so often think that schools are a bubble and not like the real world. In some ways, I would say that yes, that is true. However, because you were able to iterate that actual employers consider cellphone use a dangerous distraction connects our education system to reality. It allows you and your voice validity in our quickly changing world.

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  2. Hi Amy, I really enjoyed reading your blog post this week. I teach grade 3s and 4s and they don’t bring cell phones to school so I was quick to jump on the Team Agree side. Your post allowed me to see the perspective of a teacher working with older students and how distraction is a big deal! I agree that you have found a good balance in the approach you take with your students. Time and place is critical. I know that adults are also guilty of breaking what may or may not be appropriate when it comes to time/place and tech use. Teachers and parents have a big role to play in being good tech role models for young people.

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  3. Hey Amy, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on not only our debate topic, but also how you see technology being used and how that has changed in your classroom. I totally agree with so much of what you have said about finding balance, right time and place, and the fact that our students need to learn how to use their technology properly. I love what you said “I really believe that this is not a lesson they just learn as they grow older. They need to practice this behavior so it does not effect their futures” and I couldn’t agree more! We can’t count on students to learn digital citizenship and media literacy at home, or just naturally. It needs to be a focus in our classrooms. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  4. Amy, you raise a great point when you mention how Capital Auto Mall has a zero tolerance policy for cellphones. I had just written in my own blog post about how employers surely won’t take cell phones away from employees, so we shouldn’t at school either….and now I’m realizing I’m wrong! While many careers may allow for cellphones to be used at each individual’s discretion, many can’t/won’t. I think your response to students is perfect – are you being employable? Great question for students to ponder. I really appreciate your high school perspective. But I do agree – time and place are the key pieces that students need to learn. Great post!

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