The Continuing Battle Between Public Education and Technology

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A terrible, terrible person (cough) tries to text in class.

Some may ask, “Does it really have to be a battle?”

Sadly, yes it must. There is no easy solution to balancing the use of modern technology with the success of public education. Would it be nice if each student had a quick and efficient way of looking up vocabulary words in class as opposed to passing out and dusting off the school’s outdated dictionaries? Most students already have this portable dictionary in their pocket at no charge whatsoever to the school. The easy answer is yes, but the ‘what ifs’ reasonably outweigh what might seem simple logic.

According to teendriversource.org, the average teenager texts roughly 100 messages in a single day. High school teachers from anywhere will confirm that these teenagers don’t wait until after school to make that statistic real {see photo}. Bring out the dinosaurs; the smart phone hasn’t driven printed dictionaries into extinction just yet.

But what does this say about a school? It would be ideal to have each student equipped with an electronic tablet that acts as eight textbooks while only weighing a pound, but some schools can’t afford this. In fact, the diversity of ways (and budgets) with which America’s public education is handling technology (both personal and school issued) varies dramatically, not just by state. It isn’t uncommon at all for a school in one district to have an open technology policy while the school in the next town over is still condemning the use of any personal electronics as if it’s a deadly plague.

With obvious problems related to the maturity level of teenagers and the freedom (to be off-task, sometimes) comes with new technology, it’s difficult to find a solution that works for everybody without putting a depressingly high number of restrictions on everything. Since individual states have their policies about education, and even local districts have different ideas, it seems unlikely that nation-wide agreement on student electronics is coming any time soon.

But where would we be if schools had not allowed computers in school when they began?

Schools have a primary objective to teach the public; do students learn less when deprived of technology? Parents survived through school without super-calculators and internet access, but some say it is not fair to compare this generation with one that is so incredibly different. The culture has changed just as much as the environment; kids learn differently because they have adapted to the world where technology is everywhere. One question is whether or not this is a dependency on something unreliable, or simply the natural adoption of a new set of tools?

This reporter’s  first three years of high school were spent in Tennessee, and the school had free Wifi accessible to everyone, but cell phones were not to be seen anywhere during school hours. If students had to stay after school for something, they could bring a laptop and use it anywhere while waiting for their ride home. We were able to use flash drives to transport files from home to school, but we didn’t have Google accounts and hardly ever turned in assignments that were not hard copy.

IRCHS has about the same policy regarding cell phones and the like, other than the fact that access to the building wifi for students is not provided here. We all have Google accounts–which is a big step forward–but asking around, one finds that a surprising percentage of students here don’t even know what Google Chrome is. Although hard copies of assignments are still usually required, some assignments such as Senior research papers may be required to be submitted to turnitin.com to check for originality.

In an interview with a student from another state who has a school with an open technology policy, the student was asked what the biggest improvement had been, to which she replied: “It really cuts down on our carbon footprint because students are not allowed to print anything from school computers; it saves money on ink and paper. I think that is a huge improvement.”

With the Google capabilities, we can add environmental impact to the equation as well. Nobody really knows how much paper the average school uses in a year, but it definitely wouldn’t surprise most to say the number was enormous. Mrs. Barella, in the IRHS copy room, estimates that the staff uses roughly 40 boxes of copy paper a month to make materials for students. One standard box is 5,000 sheets; this means 200,000 sheets of paper, most of which are used only briefly. Many of which will no doubt end up in a landfill, despite the recycling efforts. Having ability to use the latest electronic devices, for teachers and students to share things digitally, will have a much “greener” impact on the environment to be sure. Free plug: Warrior Ink has been digital only for the past two years.

The issue is extremely complicated, involving many opinions and aspects. Still, the public education system is moving towards a more technological approach to teaching; it’s just that some schools move faster than others.  For example, purely online schooling is becoming more popular in many places, along with the issuing of computers or tablets to students in some areas. The IRHS pilot program of Chromebooks, like those being used in Mrs. Burt’s class, could not only save the district money but keeps students up-to-date with modern tools that everyone outside the school is using. A student from Mr. Burt’s JCC English class commented, “The Chromebooks are really small and light; we were surprised at how light they are! The only disadvantage is that we can’t [easily] print from them.”

To learn how to create the light-bulb, you had to comprehend how electricity worked, and so on, so with the teaching of technology and how it works to children now, one may conclude that it will give the future more inventors of crazy gadgets that may make things like the internet and texting obsolete.  That will probably be the day all schools become in harmony with the technology of today…and tomorrow.