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Does Increased Use of Technology Produce More Effective Instruction? - Dr. Alfred Posamentier

Does Increased Use of Technology Produce More Effective Instruction?

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Given the current economic climate and the threat of a double-dip recession, funds for public education have been sharply reduced, resulting in staffing cutbacks and the gradual increase of class size. It is seductive (and cheaper) to think that using remaining funds to increase technological support for classroom instruction, at the expense of investing, for example, in a stronger teacher pool, will solve the problems impacting student achievement. The big question looming over the educational spectrum today is whether this new emphasis on technology provides sufficient value to justify draining our strained financial resources. Does elevating the role of technology in the classroom serve to improve the learning process? Of late, research casts serious doubt on the advantage of technology as the dominant factor in the teaching process.

When one thinks of who, or what, makes the big difference in an educational program, one typically concludes: a teacher! Educating our youth is more than pumping them with facts. We motivate their thirst for learning; we know them as individuals, and we strive to enable them to adapt their knowledge to a variety of applications. Today, technological support is the most prevalent form of external support for a teacher
's work.

One example of using technology to support mathematics instruction is through dynamic geometry software such as the Geometer
's Sketchpad, which allows one to draw geometric figures accurately and then analyze them. This enables a student to appreciate the study of geometry as was never previously possible. As an example, consider a randomly drawn quadrilateral; then join the midpoints of the sides consecutively with line segments. The inside quadrilateral will always be a parallelogram! 

When we draw this with Geometer's Sketchpad, we can very easily use the cursor and drag a vertex to change the shape of the original quadrilateral, yet with each shape change noticing that the center quadrilateral will always remain a parallelogram. This should pique the interest of students, who will be drawn to ask if this is then always true. At this point the teacher can suggest that a proof would answer that question. Suddenly, the notion of a proof in the geometry course becomes meaningful, rather than another laborious task to be memorized. Isn't that what good teaching is all about? The technology used in this way has provided a motivation heretofore not possible.

There are many other good applications of technology in the classroom such as the use of "clickers" -- small hand-held devices that students use to allow the teacher to get immediate feedback anonymously from students. This helps a teacher know immediately how well students understand newly presented concepts. Before the invention of this clicker-assisted learning support, teachers had to speculate about the degree of student comprehension.

Just as there are such indispensible applications of technology for the classroom, so, too, there are abuses. Computers can be misused in a fashion that detracts from the learning process.  Students, if not properly monitored, can play games with individual laptops in a classroom instead of the assigned task. Even SMART boards -- potentially a fine instructional support device, if used properly -- can be misused if used as an overhead projector. Some computer applications are so designed that they reinforce the teaching-to-the-test syndrome that is currently permeating our educational spectrum. In short, if technological tools are not used properly, then it is better not to use them.

With the cutbacks in public-education funding, teachers are often not provided with the training needed to properly use these technological supports to enhance their teaching or to help students reach targeted learning objectives. Indeed, there are a number of studies that show that there is little or no advantage in student achievement -- as measured by standardized tests -- through teachers relying primarily on the infusion of technology in their lessons.

Although our rapid movement into an increasingly more technological society may lure us into thinking that technology can supplant the teacher, we should not lose sight of the fact that the teacher's talents, concerns, expectation, and nurturing remain paramount for a successful educational program. Used properly, technology can enhance learning. Used improperly, it can be a true detriment to student learning. Let's not lose sight of our time-tested educational principles as we carefully tread toward technological infusion, all the while assuring that we use our sophisticated technology to strengthen the teaching process only when it is appropriate for better learning.
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