Technology in Education: Are Its Benefits Really Universal?

Photo Courtesy of Heather Johnson / Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Heather Johnson / Flickr

These days it’s hard to imagine school without technology. At Boston College the connection between education and technology is obvious; hardly a day goes by without students on campus turning in at least one online assignment on Canvas or a similar source. Luckily, BC does a good job of assisting students by providing a multitude of public computers for those who cannot afford the luxuries of technology on their own. When internet access is scarce, however, the impact on education is detrimental. On the other hand, when access to technology is increased, it is hard to say whether it is entirely beneficial.

Even in the K-12 education, internet access has become all the more integral to the learning experience. A recent article in the Atlantic reveals that just having access to a basic dial-up connection is no longer enough in compulsory education. While government initiatives have brought 99 percent of public schools in the country onto the grid, the discrepancies in internet access and availability between school systems can cause a huge divide in the quality of education received. In the race to gain the best education possible, a lack of technology causes many students in impoverished areas to fall tragically behind.

In 2013, President Barack Obama implemented an initiative called ConnectED that was designed to bring every school in America high-speed internet access by 2018. This is an admirable feat, and the program has – so far – achieved moderate success. However, the relatively underwhelming results of this project reveal that a successful education requires more than just having access to the internet and technology; what matters most is knowing how to properly use it.

Although most students in America know how to use a smart phone, tablet or desktop computer to browse internet sites or watch funny videos on YouTube, many can still be “digitally illiterate” in knowing how to use technology and internet services for education purposes. If a student rarely has internet access outside of a school setting, he will remain unable to use that technology to his greatest benefit. Even with high-speed internet access, students like this may be falling behind.

Shannon West / Gavel Media

Shannon West / Gavel Media

What becomes the question—if it seems impossible to bring every student in America to the same level of technological access and know-how— is whether or not technology is truly bringing tangible benefits to the classroom. A 2011 initiative in Auburn, Maine to provide every kindergarten student in the district with an iPad has been at the center of the national debate on the acceptance of technology. The Auburn community is certainly not struggling to provide technology access to their students, which is a positive sign. However, how will this new source of learning truly benefit those kindergarten students?

Photo Courtesy of Sean MacEntee / Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Sean MacEntee / Flickr

Technology may be integral to the higher-education experience, but students in a high-school setting and students in a kindergarten classroom are expected to learn very different things throughout the course of the school year. While a high-school tenth grader is expected to write papers on The Great Gatsby or turn in numerous precalculus assignments—amongst many other things that require access to internet and technology—students in kindergarten and even higher elementary school grade-levels are learning very different fundamental skills: those of socialization and interaction. While an iPad initiative in kindergarten classrooms may improve the test scores of those students, what remains uncertain is whether or not those students are developing skills necessary for social life by focusing their attention on a digital screen.

Although students in the 21st century may not remember a time when technology was not an integral part of the classroom, the fact remains that it is still a relatively new educational source. It may aid teachers in grading or turning in assignments and it certainly gives students a greater access to information, but its benefits may not be universal, especially to those students who only have basic dial-up at their disposal.

When technology is introduced to the classroom, it is inevitable that some students in areas that cannot afford the same technological luxuries as their wealthy counterparts will fall behind. Creating initiatives to provide at least basic access to the internet and other technologies is a good start to providing a relatively even ground for students across the board. However, lawmakers and educators alike must ask themselves what the true benefits of technology in the classroom are and where, if at all, that line should be drawn. Only time can tell if increased technology in the classroom will bring untold positive results. For now, we must wait and see.

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