Technology in the classroom has revolutionised teaching. Some lecturers welcome this change because it provides countless opportunities for creatively engaging students. Others argue that wider use of technology leads to distraction and superficial learning.
Improving classroom engagement is on the agenda of countless UK universities. Students are no longer expected to be consumers of information. They are encouraged to engage, share knowledge and create content using digital technologies.
What are the pros?
Using technology in the classroom can provide opportunities for more creative teaching materials. As a lecturer, you could include online quizzes, assessments, simulation projects, games, videos and digital questionnaires. In face-to-face teaching, gaining feedback on students’ progress can be more time consuming compared to digital environments. When you give an online quiz to your students to check their understanding, you can receive instant feedback with regards to the level of their understanding. You can analyse the data which you receive to highlight areas of concern and tailor consequent classes to meet those needs.
Using online resources can help you to make the classroom your own teaching laboratory. You could experiment with a wide range of teaching methods. You might flavour your classes with creative resources. And you could receive instant feedback on what works (and what does not).
You will be able to provide students with a vast range of literature without bringing heavy text books in the classroom. You will no longer need to photocopy handouts and create lots of paper waste. You will be kinder to the planet if you share resources online. Reading online academic journals may be challenging for first year students. Becoming comfortable reading text-heavy online resources will serve them well for the rest of their professional careers.
What are the cons?
Many lecturers would agree that technology can easily distract students. E-mail, social media and online shopping sites are just a click of a button away and can easily derail students’ attention. Students are convinced that a quick e-mail check or a text to a friend throughout class will not make any difference. Students need to have the maturity to focus solely on the class when they are exposed to numerous online distractions.
Stanford University set out to prove the link between productivity and interruptions. Researchers at Stanford found that distractions resulted in less productivity. When you switch your attention back and forth multiple times, your attention decreases and the quality of your work suffers.
Although technology can allow students to engage with each other digitally, it can create a sense of separateness in the face-to-face environment. Through frequent use of technology in the classroom, students may develop a strong preference to communicating virtually with each other as opposed to face-to-face. Using electric devices can lead to poor writing skills because students can tap away on their keyboard instead of writing notes. As research shows, the act of writing things down on paper helps to commit information to memory and to better digest new knowledge.
How to develop a balanced approach?
Although technology offers refreshing opportunities for creative classroom teaching, we need to develop a blended and balanced approach to incorporating it. We may embrace new technology without losing our focus on educating people. After all, technology is only a tool which can be used to enrich our learning. It cannot, however, replace the rapport and connection between lecturer and student. It would be a shame for education to turn into superficial entertainment because of the overuse of technology.
A blended approach could incorporate both traditional face-to-face and digital teaching. Lecturers may choose to deliver some classes without the use of technology and encourage students to engage in face-to-face interactions. Other classes could be more digitally flavoured taking advantage of the opportunities the online world offers.
It would be wise to educate students about how to manage the risks of the online world. Addiction to smartphones is rapidly on the rise. According to Ofcom, nearly 35% of young people in the UK find it difficult to disconnect from their mobile phones. Over a third of young mobile users have been told that they spend too much time online.
Universities could help students to navigate the online world with maturity and discipline. Workshops, courses or individual support could offer guidance to students on how to develop a balanced approach to technology and contribute to fostering better mental health.