Following hefty improvement in production technologies and technological knowhow, personal computers became largely affordable. Many people thought that education could evolve and get enhanced better leading to the emergence of a super smart population. The global society may not have precisely accomplished this.
However, technologies that are available to students and teachers have rapidly evolved compared to the period in history when even low speed desktop computers were hard to use. With this insight, the question that remains is whether educational technologies have a role in enhancing the quality of education.
For the purpose of discussions of this paper, the term educational technology means “ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Richey, 2008, p.24). Educational technology embraces but also goes beyond the use of internet applications, hardware, software, blogs, and other tools and instruments that enhance free and fast flow of information.
From this perspective, amid considering various arguments and counter-arguments for and against the roles of educational technologies in the modern society in improving learning in schools, the paper argues that educational technologies can serve to improve learning.
Role of educational technologies in improving learning
Endeavor to improve education has always been a challenging one. For this reason, people have conducted test scores besides making comparisons of perceived performance of a nation’s education against other nations. This has resulted to pushing education to the forefront of the state level politics. In this context, improvement of education ranks right behind concerns of healthcare reforms (Scherer, 2004, p.37).
Given this intense need to increase the quality of education, deployment of educational technologies can greatly aid in making learning and teaching a success. However, it is important to note that technology does not act in similar manner with physical mechanisms of improving learning. For instance, while smaller classes are preferred for effective learning, making use of technology to enhance education cannot act in such a similar manner.
In support of this line of argument, Jonassen (1997) reckons, “technology can be a “force multiplier” for the teacher: Instead of the teacher being the only source of help in a classroom, students can access web sites, online tutorials, and more to assist them” (p.67). As physical classes would be over as the day ends, “…assignments and teacher’s resources are always available online via web resources” (Soni, 2004, p.45).
This means that students can access the information they require at any time they need it. Additionally, students can request for tutorial aid at time they feels like from the teachers or even from online collaboration. Moreover, technology can greatly enhance the parental involvement in fostering learning which results in greater educational achievements of students.
The roles of technology in fostering the involvement of parents in education is perhaps relevant by considering the current situation in which parents have tighter schedules and work for longer hours. Therefore, they cannot constantly aid the children in their homework and keep a constant check on their performance in schools.
However, technology can act as an enormous source of resolving this challenge. Additionally, parents can communicate with their children right at home via instant messaging and emails. This implies that ardent communication is critical component for enhancing learning in schools. Information technology has acted to improve this component magnificently.
For students taking projects, projects that are principally inquiry based acts as significant mechanisms that enable students to focus more on thinking as opposed to memorization. Technological development has again enhanced this. Such group projects enable students to build essential skills such as communication, problem solving, creative and critical thinking and team work. Arguably, these are essential components of enhancing learning.
Indeed, technology can aid in their achievement among students. In this end, as Bednar and Sweeder (2005) note, “…technology can create websites, blogs, and multimedia presentations as part of students’ projects” (p.245). The created websites can be sources of research information. Through the websites, students get an opportunity to connect with the global student community and collaborate. While doing inquiry-based projects, technological skills are acquired and purpose of education achieved much more precisely.
Ways in which educational technologies may aid in improving learning
Educational technologies have immensely enabled many teachers to stretch far beyond the text based and linear learning modes by helping them to engage students proactively to other means and ways of learning, which they are best suited. Consequently, while many nations, especially the developed world, ask whether they need to make use of more technology in their education systems, other nations ask how technology can serve to improve learning.
Technology is one of the mechanisms that can improve learning. However, for it to be effective, it needs to reflect the manner in which people learn in the settings of education thereby helping in the realization of the educational interventions that are effective. It should posses elements of educational psychology and more importantly profile closely the organizational and school social psychology (Woolfolk, Winnie, & Perry, 2008, p.86).
This means that educational technologies needs to be effective in improving education even to people who have special needs arising from their physical and mental disabilities. With the acclaimed capacity of educational technologies to improve learning, several areas where technology can play pivotal roles in enhancing learning are worth giving a glance.
Educational technologies can enormously aid in fostering better learning through simulation models. For instance, although it is possible to depict how vibrations occur and how they cause sounds using a tuning fork, “it is harder to demonstrate what ideally evolution is and or how molecules can behave when subjected to differing conditions and situations” (Skinner, 1968, p.14). Furthermore, it would be enormously hard for a teacher to demonstrate the danger brought about by mixing of two specific chemical.
However, amid these difficulties, with the educational technologies, such experiments can be accomplished both precisely and comprehensively in classroom settings with the help of digital simulations. In this regard Lipsitz and Reisner (2010) note, “digital simulations and models can help teachers explain concepts that are too big or too small, or processes that happen too quickly or too slowly to demonstrate in a physical classroom” (p.91). Indeed, technology exists for application in educational setting to help in fostering learning.
This is exemplary and evident in technologies developed by a company called Concord Consortium. This company is a non-profit making firm whose mandate is to develop science, math and engineering educational technologies. Indeed, the company has developed software that is open source to all teachers. Teachers can deploy the software to aid them in modeling of concepts. One of the most conspicuous successes of the company is development of molecular workbench software.
This software helps science tutors to reproduce “topics such as chemical bonding, gas laws and even fluid mechanics” (Skinner, 1968, p.14) among others. The overall impact is that, although these topics may present abstract ideas especially to new students, visual simulations make their teaching much easier. Hence, teacher’s work becomes both effective and efficient in terms of delivery of the end goals.
Research is also in the process to come up with software that can experiment evolution through making use of virtual green houses. Moreover, to make learning physics more effective, software have been developed that can aid student to adequately understand the physics behind efficiency of energy utilization through employment of model houses and also simulations of the manner in which matter interacts with the clouds of electrons. All these examples explain how technology can make education effective through creation of digital models and simulations.
In the era of globalization, it is significant that students’ understands virtually everything that takes place across the globe. To achieve this, it is almost impossible to avoid adoption of concepts of global learning. However, global learning is impossible to embrace in case educational technologies are not incorporated in educational settings since they serve to enhance it. For instance, through information technology, sites such as Glovico.org are created.
Specifically, at Glovico.org, “students can set up language lessons with a native speaker who lives in another country and attend the lessons via video conferencing” (Monahan, 2005, p.109). This means that one does not have to be a native speaker of given language to learn certain cultural aspects of a given community living in any part of the globe. This is because technology has enabled language settings to be tantamount to setting a video conferencing communication system.
In this regard, Mishra and Koehler (2006) lament, “learning from a native speaker, learning through social interaction, and being exposed to another culture’s perspective are all incredible educational advantages that were once only available to those who could foot a travel bill” (p.1017). Technology has come to reduce the need to travel to have such experiences. In this context, educational technologies can foster multiculturalism without necessary having to travel to acquire such experience (Monahan, 2005, p.197).
However, possible counter augment is even though the technology may lead to better cultural learning, such learning may result to cultural stereotyping. However, in the quest to achieve cultural tolerance it is necessary for people to acquit themselves with other people’s cultural affiliations (Soni, 2004, p.215). Educational technologies can by far help in achievement of this noble goal and hence aid in making learning effective.
Apart from technological models and simulations aiding teachers’ work to be effective, they also help in evaluation of the students understanding of the concepts taught to them. Consequently, “models and simulations, beyond being a powerful tool for teaching concepts, can also give teachers a much richer picture of how students understand them” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, p.1020).
For instance, despite the fact students can amicably explain what chromosome are, it does not mean that they understand them better. This means that even though one may be familiar with a given definition it does mean that one understands a given concept well. Therefore, in this regards, the traditional teaching models are ineffective.
Thus, educational technologies can make such models effective. However, many would ask how. Concord Consortium is a good example of how to achieve this. The company developed software that enables students to understand the concepts of genetics through “breeding of dragon”. With the help of the software, teachers are able to give their students problems that closely compares to performance assessments.
When a student is requested to develop a dragon, the teachers can follow what the students did to achieve the result. This way, the instructor is able to access whether the scholar used trial and error technique to arrive at the right answer and whether such knowledge is necessary or it can lead to the right solutions to genetic problems.
Another critical area where educational technologies can aid in improving learning in educational settings is through E-books technology. Through this technology, students are able to access books quicker than accessing such books in the physical library. Furthermore, students do not have to travel from their residential areas to get books in the library shelves.
Since the publication cost goes into raising the costs of textbooks, through E-book technology, the cost of books would significantly reduce. Hence, students would afford a wide variety of books from which to base their knowledge while still the authors of the books get their dues. Arguably, E-books hold unimaginably untapped potential in improving learning coupled with innovating education. However, even though many schools are cognizant of this potential, many have not embraced it.
Educational technologies can significantly aid in improving learning in educational settings. In the paper, this is possible through enabling teachers to stretch far beyond the text-based and linear learning modes. Consequently, teachers can engage students proactively to other means and ways of learning in which they are best talented.
The paper also discusses global learning, digital modeling and simulations, and E-book technology as some of the ways through which learning can be enhanced. In all these ways, the paper holds that technology is the main thing that makes them possible to realize educational settings.
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