The Present and Future Role of Technology in the Classroom

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For many people to walk into a classroom today they may not recognize it as it was when they were in school. The classroom has changed as technology has changed. It is not uncommon to see second grade students using the Internet to communicate with students across the country, or to see high school students using PowerPoint to present a research project. Technology has changed the way the classroom looks, how’s it run and what is taught. Technology plays a large role in present classrooms and it will play a larger role in the future.

The current role of technology in our nation’s classrooms usually depends on the teacher. Every school district seems to be allocating resources to “get wired” and improve their existing technology. The Internet, CD-ROM’s, PowerPoint, VCR’s and video recording devices are all common in most schools. Some of the wealthier districts even have individual classrooms wired for Internet access. However, just because the technology is in the buildings doesn’t mean that it is widely used. Many teachers are not trained to use the technology that is available to them. Predictions about how long it will take to train the two million teachers in America often implicitly embrace a top-down model we must first develop curriculum, get courses approved, hire trainers, etc. If that were so, it would take decades to make discernible progress (Serim & Koch, 16). The reality is that teachers have to train themselves and many are not willing to do that, don’t have the time, or simply can’t. That may sound depressing, but reality is that many teachers are willing and able. Furthermore, the teachers entering the workplace over the past years all have had technological training.

The technology of the Internet is probably the most widely used by educators today. The Internet is the world’s largest computer network, connecting more than 4 million computers in over 160 countries. More than thirty million people, increasing at a rate of one million per month, are estimated to have access to the Internet (Distefano & McClain, 16). The Internet allows students access to millions of documents, professional and university libraries, as well as the opportunity to take virtual tours of almost any location on the earth. Most teachers understand the opportunity that the Internet allows them and they want to utilize it. These teachers who use the Internet see themselves as the learned, guiding hand in the student’s process of discovering knowledge. They are getting away from the teacher as the dispenser of knowledge. The Internet additionally allows teachers the opportunity to connect their students to students around the world.

Those teachers who are utilizing the opportunities that the Internet offers are participating in amazing projects. Science classes from Bellevue, Washington and Bridgewater, Virginia have joined forces with NASA as part of a program called, Sharing NASA with our Schools. This program allows the students to view NASA scientists at work and interact with these scientists online. The students can use the scientists as resources for their own school lab projects. Another project is going on in Juneau, Alaska. As part of Alaska Online, students from Dzantik Heeni Middle School are responsible for sharing information about Alaska’s geography and its people with anyone interested online (Serim & Koch, 16). Essentially these middle school students are responsible for teaching the world about Alaska! Whether it’s using professionals as resources, or taking on the responsibility of teaching the world, these classrooms are a great example of how the technology of the Internet is being used today.

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If students are exposed to such wonderful projects today, in what direction will technology take education in the future? The most important aspect to understand is that in the big picture very few students are exposed to this type of learning with technology. There are still many schools who are not wired for Internet access and many that are lack the sufficient amount of computer machines necessary to provide real access to the Internet. The future for these schools will be playing “catch up”. Eventually they will have the resources ready, and hopefully by that time the teachers in these schools will be fully trained and ready to use the technology afforded to them.

When talking about the future of technology in the classroom it seems as if you can dream it, it can happen. I see technology going in many different directions. It is hard to truly grasp what is possible, but I will take a gander. I think that in the future all school children will have notebook computers. These will be their primary instruments of learning. The school districts will provide them for their students and they will be pre-programmed to the child’s academic schedule. As an example, the students will have on their homepage different icons for different subjects. When clicking on that subject’s icon the student will have access to a number of software programs that the student needs for that subject. The teacher will have a built in program that allows them to call up any student’s screen to evaluate their progress or to assist the student.

In the upper grades students will attend virtual classrooms. Students from different schools will all be in the same virtual class. I foresee students choosing elective classes, which are not given at their school, but can be accessed and taken through another school by attending a virtual classroom. I can see teachers working together to teach each other’s classes from separate schools. Using video streamed into the classrooms, teachers can teach the areas that they consider their strengths and allow their students to attend a virtual class in another school. This will allow these teachers to help them teach areas that are a weakness for them without their students suffering.

Student work will be completely different in the future. No longer will students make simple project presentations, they will be creating websites, virtual tours, and streaming videos. These projects will all be on the Internet. They will be judged not only by their content, but also by how technologically advanced the project is. As an extra motivation for students, knowing that their work could conceivably be viewed by millions of other students, the Internet will raise the bar for student work. This philosophy of using technology not to simply learn from but to create is known as constructivism. In the past technology programs were developed to with the belief that they could convey information (and hopefully understanding) more effectively than teachers. But constructivist believe that you cannot convey understanding. That can only be constructed by learners (Jonassen, Peck & Wilson, 1). I believe this philosophy will take hold throughout education and technology will allow it to happen.

Technology has brought a lot of change to the current classroom and it’s future affords educators with a great deal of opportunity. It is important that educators use the resources that are currently available to them. The Internet as opened up the world to our students and its potential is limitless. Students in Juneau, Alaska and Bridgewater, Virginia have shown us how teachers and students can use the technology that we have. It is up to our imagination to see the role that technology will play in the future of education. Students will be asked to uncover and discover to gain understanding, rather than be told what to understand. Undoubtedly, technology will be the cornerstone of this type of student learning in the future.

Jonassen, D., Peck, K. & Wilson, B. (1) Learning With Technology, A Constructivist Perspective, Upper Saddle River, NJ Prentice Hall

McClain, T. & Distefano, V. (16) Educator’s Internet Companion, Upper Saddle River, NJ Prentice Hall

Serim, F. & Koch, M. (16) NetLearning Why Teachers Use the Internet, Sebastopol, CA Songline Studios, Inc.

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