It’s no secret that using technology in the classroom, in K-12 and in higher education, has been a controversial debate for the last couple of decades. Parents, teachers, policy makers, and students alike have weighed and argued the potential benefits versus the risks and consequences of classroom technology, not only referring to the devices many students personally own, but also when referring to the integration of tools into the everyday education experience.

Here’s a breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks of using technology in the classroom.

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What does it mean to use technology in the classroom?

Many instructors’ first experience of classroom technology may well have been “Oregon Trail”, a computer game for young students that teachers allowed when students finished their class work. (Its creators, the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, would point out that it teaches planning ahead, budgeting, management, and U.S. history.)

Jeremy Posey, the mathematics coordinator for the National Math + Science Initiative, defines education technology as “any tool that can be used to help promote human learning, including—but not limited to—calculators, tablets, Smart Boards, video cameras, digital cameras, MP3 players, Portable Digital Assistants (PDAs), and, of course, the computer.” One, of course, could add lecture engagement platforms, such as Top Hat, to that list.

There is certainly a growing, changing role of the college professor from a sage-on-the-stage to a more interactive designer of instruction and classroom experience. This can be a fantastic opportunity for you to experiment and grow in realms you perhaps hadn’t originally considered.

The pros

  1. Using technology in the classroom allows you to experiment more in pedagogy.

    As an academic professional, you’ll learn more about how to effectively design and execute a class guided with technology. Whether it’s a dramatic change such as teaching with a flipped-classroom, or just adopting a single tool for a specific project or term, you’ll learn something new in modern academia! Being well-versed in technology can also help build your credibility with students, and even with fellow colleagues.

  2. There are countless resources for enhancing education and making learning more fun and effective.

    From apps to organizational platforms to e-textbooks and more, there are many amazing tools that can help you.

  3. Technology can automate a lot of your tedious tasks.

    Engagement tools like Top Hat can automate grading for you and keep track of student performance. Similarly, tools like Top Hat can help you streamline grading for writing assignments, discussions, and participation, and answering common student questions, which otherwise can seem daunting due to their objective nature.

  4. Your class has instant access to information that can supplement their learning experience.

    It shifts the classroom experience from the sage-on-a-stage approach to a more collaborative environment. Imagine that your student raises her hand and says, “I know exactly what you mean! I saw a similar case on YouTube last week. May I share it with the class?” Student rushes to the lectern, finds it on YouTube, and everyone (including you!) learns something new. Researching on the spot becomes easier.

  5. Students can learn life skills through technology.

    Creating presentations, learning to differentiate reliable from unreliable sources on the Internet, maintaining proper online etiquette, and writing emails; these are all vital skills that your students can learn in the classroom and master before graduation.

  6. We live in a digital world.

    Neither you, nor your students, should go back to the 19th century when they walk into your classroom. Using technology in the classroom can prepare your students for a future deeply rooted in technology.

The Cons

  1. Technology can be a distraction.

    This makes the notion of creating a structure and culture of respect all the more important since day one. Identify specific projects, times during class, and the specific intentions you have for allowing the use of technology in the classroom. Creating expectations and guidelines for the students, and sticking to them, will be important for them in respecting your boundaries. It will be better to use technology that students already have (smartphones, laptops, etc.) for good and valuable learning experiences, rather than pretend like those devices aren’t present in your class in the first place.

  2. Possible disconnect of social interaction.

    This can happen, but it doesn’t have to. Many people are skeptical of technology and what it does to students’ (and everyone else’s) ability to verbally communicate. If you create assignments in class that use both technological tools as well as oral presentations and collaboration, this will teach students to be dynamic in how they learn and interact with others.

  3. Technology can foster more cheating in class and on assignments.

    However, this will only happen if you give up hope on adjusting your students’ attitudes and only give them subjective assignments that require no thought or perspective.

  4. Students do not have equal access to technological resources.

    There will be students who do not have iPads or cameras or even the textbooks for class. It will be up to you to point them in the direction of the library or community resources, or to create assignments that allow them to work in groups and share resources. That being said, close to 95% student have some sort of technology devices, even if it’s just a cell phone.

  5. The quality of research and sources they find may not be top-notch.

    The internet is both a blessing and a curse. Your students may need some guidance on identifying proper sources and unreliable sources. Many campuses have writing centers that can help with this.

  6. Lesson planning can become more labor-intensive with technology.

    Yes, for some. It can seem overwhelming to adapt technology into your classroom. In many ways though, using technology can become as natural to you as any daily activity. Allow yourself time to learn how to use something. Chances are your students will learn it even faster than you since they’ve grown up surrounded by technology.

Try something new with technology next term. Technology has its pros and cons, and adopting technology in the classroom is something that professors and teachers are comfortable with on different levels and to different extents. It can be frustrating and it can be time-consuming. But it can also open doors to new experiences, new ways of learning and collaborating, and new discoveries in the classroom. Give it a shot and see what you can learn.

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Top Hat Staff

Top Hat Staff

This post is written by the Top Hat editorial team. For more on technology in the classroom, active learning, and student engagement, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.