Pros and Cons of Technology in the K-12 Classroom

by Asaf Darash,

As we move steadfastly into the 21st century, the topic of technology in the K-12 classroom is on many people’s minds – teachers, administrators, parents and kids alike. I think there is general agreement that the issue of tech in the classroom isn’t simply a matter of “should we use technology or not?” (Just in case you want to know my view: I believe the answer is we should). I think it is safe to say that technology is here to say for the next few years and therefore we need to teach our kids this important tool. Hence the question we should be dealing with is HOW should technology in the K-12 classroom enter and what should a tech classroom look like?

The “how” question is a big one and deals with many things that are connected to education in general. An example that is not directly connected to technology is that we all agree our children should learn to read, but what a lot of educators do not agree on it how we should be teaching them to read. Should it be a holistic approach that sees the language as as functional whole (language as a system) or should we be teaching it as distinct parts that should be put together later by the child on their own (language as a ladder).

The question of “how” goes even further when dealing with technology. We still have not decided if we want to teach our children just how to “read” technology or if we also want them to “read” and “write” technology. This means the question of how in technology also deals with what we should be teaching. Should 1st graders have iPads provided by the school? Should all homework be required to be completed on a computer or a portion, if not all, research for a book report or paper be done online. What about kids without access to a computer at home? What about lack of resources at a school to provide every student with a computer, tablet or connection?

My Background

Before I go on, you might be asking yourself: “What does a startup entrepreneur have to do with Technology in the Classroom”. Well… it turns out I am an educator before an entrepreneur. Before I founded Regpack I finished a Ph.D. in Computer Languages. My degree dealt with the implications and inner connections between computer languages learned and used and the human action they induce (heavy stuff, I know, but it was really fun!). Then I taught at the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and also during my post-doc, at UC Berkeley. I also volunteer and teach technology and computer use to 5th and 6th graders. So I sort of have my hand in technology and education and wanted to explore some key points regarding this connection in a blog.

For me, technology is the gateway to the future and I believe all kids should have access to and knowledge of all the ‘tech devices’ out there as they move through their education and into the real world. It’s a responsibility we as adults, parents and educators have to the next generation. But as you will see below, I sort of take it a step further.

Technology as Literacy

Catlin Tucker, a high school teacher and writer about incorporating technology in the classroom (I interviewed her on the blog a few years ago!) recently wrote about the idea of ‘literacy’ and the idea that literacy is no longer who can read and write vs. who cannot, but who is equipt to navigate the online space and use technology to the fullest as a measure of literary. She says that she’s “concerned that teaching exclusively with pen and paper is not enough anymore. It will not adequately prepare our students for the jobs that await them after high school.” I couldn’t agree more but as I said, I am going to take this a step further…

Teaching to read and to write technology.

I think that Catlin is right and the amazing the Los Angeles initiative (billion dollar project to put iPad’s in the hands of every one of it’s students) shows that we are going in that direction. This is definitely a step in the right direction. But I am sorry to say that it is a step too little and with the wrong tools. The iPad by definition is a consumer tool. It is a tool that allows you to consume video, text, websites, images and anything of the sort. It is basically a fancy book and communication tool. It is very far from being a technology “creation” tool. Even the apps and modules that are build for the iPad are not built on it but rather on desktops or laptops and then converted to an app for use on it. Why am I going on about all this? The reason is that I think that we are trying to teach our children to “read” technology and we are not giving the the needed skills to “write” technology.

Unlike literacy, one does not automatically create the other. Obviously not every kid is going to be a marvel programmer like Bill Gates or Linus Torvalds (the initial creator or the Linux operating system that more than 80% of the internet runs on) and frankly that is not the objective. The idea is that if we teach kids how the computer works, how it is programmed and how it basically “thinks” it will open up a whole new world to these children. They can suddenly become critical thinkers regarding technology and not just “users” (btw, ask any developer you know and they will tell you the word “users” is always used with a negative connotation in their circles – a way to regard someone that is totally clueless about technology).

So how can we teach our children to read and write technology? The process is actually pretty simple!

All we need to do is explain to them that technology is a state of development and it creates various tools. The tools are not given, they are constantly changing and therefore they need to be able to see computer technology for what it is: an ever changing set of tools. The way to really grasp the computer is to learn about it directly and not through tools that have been built on it. How? Just teach them some sort of basic coding language. Let them play around with an operating system so they understand that everything they see is basically another application that is put on top of the hardware they are using. Let them code in “basic” (it is a type of very basic language), in HTML, in CSS, in Javascript. Anything that demands them to setup a variable and then use it for something. They will learn and also have a lot of fun (I wrote a post about why I love to code which you might like to look at).

Suddenly the computer will not be that mysterious. Suddenly the problems they see and the limitations a specific application creates will be understood by them since they can see that everything, from even writing something on the screen, need to be programmed in a computer. In essence, a computer is a general purpose tool that can do nothing and that is what enables us to make it do nearly anything!

Conclusion

This is a huge but also really interesting topic. We are really seeing a shift completely in how us adults ‘did’ school and how these next generations will experience the world. Online research for homework, all assignments given and completed online, devices from school to complement traditional teaching models.

Where the line is between what is beneficial and what is preparing our students for the tech and skills they will most certainly need once they enter the job force, and what tech and devices might actually hinder students because of distraction and too much ‘online’ time still remains to be worked out.

What devices will teach our children to “write” technology and what devices will only make them “readers” of technology and therefore create a new power relation in society: between those that can write technology and understand how the computer “thinks” and those that are just consumers that can react to what they are given and what is enabled to them.

The other challenge is finding the best ways to incorporate technology (which I think is inevitable) into the classroom and educating our educators on how best to teach it, utilize it and ensure it’s a help and not an hinderance. The next 5 years, as more programs like the Los Angeles iPad program roll out and we see how students react and move through their classes will be a great way to evaluate how tech can be useful and how we can improve it.

The bottom line for me is, the future is in technology and if we don’t prepare all students for this, those that don’t have a access will be at a disadvantage for their future.

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About The Author

Asaf Darash

Asaf has extensive experience as entrepreneur and investor. Asaf has built 3 successful companies to date, all with an exit plan or that have stayed in profitability and are still functional. Asaf specializes in product development for the web, team building and in bringing a company from concept to an actualized unit that is profitable.