We saw the world enter a technological age throughout the 20th century, with the dawning of the internet. Then the 21st century brought better, smarter mobile phones and digital gadgets, paving the way into a new era of business, socialising and learning. So of course, teaching followed suit. The blackboard and chalk solidified itself in history, with the whiteboard soon joining it. Who remembers sitting in the front row of assembly hoping they’d be picked to be in charge of the projector? Now it’s who gets to do the calibration of the smartboard. Technology has opened new doors for education, but are all of them good?
Making Education Accessible
Using laptops in the classroom certainly makes learning more accessible to those with special educational needs. Typing instead of writing has made processing information easier for some students and legibility issues eliminated, preventing students from losing marks in examinations. Some schools even have access to tablets as a personal resource, providing alternative methods of learning that can be differentiated for all levels.
Let’s not forget how invaluable digital teaching has been this year. 2020 meant remote learning and online resources became a necessity. Digital classrooms, video lessons and shared documents turned out to be the foundation of teaching when schools were closed and students were left facing home-learning. Without technology, the education system would have come to a grinding halt and our young people would have faced up to six months of zero teaching hours.
Technology certainly makes education accessible wherever you are, but is there a negative side to this?
The Age of Immediacy
A world of knowledge at your fingertips. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? However, with this comes the responsibility of internet safety and data protection. Once, security settings were easily overridden by using proxy websites to enable games, which you quickly closed when your IT teacher walked past. Now, the security of sensitive information can be at stake and with social media being young people’s go-to for interaction, cyberbullying and online presence anxiety is an overwhelming concern for both teachers and parents alike.
Plagiarism also comes into play here. Increasingly, teachers are finding more plagiarised work that has been lifted off the internet and into a student’s essay. Adding detective work to their ever-growing skillset, it can be easily identified (especially if they’ve used a word like incongruous and you know that didn’t even come up in last week’s spelling test). Therefore, this begs the question – does the internet make our children lazy?
It may sound old fashioned, but when did looking something up in a dictionary become so archaic? Arguably, you could say this allows for more independent learning, but when you can find out anything at a click of a button, the effort involved and the reward gained from finding something out for yourself becomes obsolete. The methodology of ‘brain, book, buddy, boss’ is no longer required when you can just look it up on your phone. Why should you go to the pains of reading a book to research a topic when you could just Google it and the internet will tell you the answer? What’s the point in showing your workings out when all you need to do is tap it into your phone and it’s there? I remember my Maths teacher say, “you won’t always have a calculator in your back pocket.” Well, we do now. We have everything in our back pocket. Is that a good thing? Or does the expectation of immediacy sacrifice the value of learning and replace it with entitlement?
Is Calligraphy Making a Comeback?
Another fear shared by anyone who appreciates the art of handwriting, is that it almost no longer exists. If we’re preparing young people for the world of work; a future outside the classroom where they make a living – what career requires handwriting anymore? Do we need pen and paper? As a writer, I would cry out an emphatic yes! Although much of our communication is transcribed in a Word document, an e-mail or a text message, technology is volatile. One minute it’s all working perfectly, the next your laptop sounds like it’s a Boeing 747 ready for take-off and the spinning wheel of doom is sitting pretty in the middle of the essay you forgot to save. Did you take notes by hand? Or is all your research on your tablet which has died, and you haven’t been able to find the charger since you got it? Finally, the terrifying realisation dawns that, if you picked up a pen you wouldn’t know what to do with it. Is that the future for the next generation?
My guess is no. Handwriting is a skill that should continue to be taught. With TikTok videos of beautiful calligraphy becoming a wide-spread trend, turning your scrawl into a work of art could now be back in fashion. And who doesn’t like being told they have lovely handwriting?
Although there’s much to question when it comes to the digital side of teaching, it’s moving with the times in a positive way. Lessons can be more engaging with a wider variety of resources and the utilisation of digital media. Assessment for learning becomes instantaneous and there are more ways to teach innovatively. They don’t call it an interactive whiteboard for nothing.
Whether you prefer this new digital age of teaching or not is subjective. Some people love gadgets and the latest advancements in technology, others prefer to go old-school and find satisfaction in the pages of a well-thumbed textbook and kinaesthetic group work. There is no right and wrong. Teaching without technology now would be nigh on impossible, with even the register being on an information system, but does a lesson consisting of nothing but the click-clacking of keyboards qualify as a good lesson? Perhaps the answer is a blend of both worlds, where digital meets dialogue.
About the author
After completing a BA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, Tammy worked as a Learning Support Assistant, with a focus on helping students develop their literacy skills. She then taught as an English teacher at an all-boys comprehensive school in Berkshire. Now she has turned her sights to a career in marketing, with writing at the heart of it.