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Classroom Technology: Engaging the Internet Brain

In the past, teachers have punished students for checking phones and tablets in the classroom, and even banned those devices entirely. Many universities continue to claim that smartphones, tablets, and laptops provide more of a distraction than an aid to education, but with access to so much information, literally at their fingertips, is technology in the classroom really such a bad thing?

Technology can be distracting, but the real issue is content and engagement. Just as in marketing, educators need to understand their audience and convey their messages appropriately. The student population is primarily comprised of millennials, and this is the internet generation. More than 60% own smartphones, and 75% even use them in bed. The last thing they see at night and the first thing they see in the morning is a screen. Technology is simply hard wired into their lives. With so many sources of stimuli, and constant bombardment of information, they’ve been trained to process data at unprecedented speeds. The benefits of this obvious, but one of the drawbacks is that it’s difficult to capture the attention of a content-oriented brain. Multitasking isn’t just a skill of the millennial. It’s a necessity, and educators must understand that 3 hours of reading lecture notes in a monotone voice isn’t the way to reach them. While students can easily process and retain the information that most lectures provide them, many teachers present it in a way that is incompatible with the internet brain. Traditional educational techniques are simply outdated and inappropriate for relaying information to students that grew up with the internet. This concept is fairly simple, and most teachers notice it while working with students in the classroom, so why are they still using outdated devices and techniques?

Naturally money is a factor. Up-to-date technology is typically expensive, and for many underfunded schools, the budget is already stretched to the breaking point before they consider upgrading. Projectors and smartboards can easily cost several thousand dollars per unit, and wireless internet to support browsing for large groups of students can add up quickly as well. The general mindset is to cut costs by extending the lives of outdated equipment, but this is a terrible mistake. While early millennials experienced both the pre- and post-internet worlds, current students haven’t. Their concepts of how information should be presented are vastly different than any generation before them, and universities must adapt. Investing in modern engagement tools is essential for achieving results.

Many devices are available, from interactive chalkboards, to ereaders that eliminate the need to carry bulky textbooks, but classroom technology isn’t limited to physical devices. There are a broad range of sites, programs, and applications that are available to teach and engage students. In many cases, these options are preferable to schools as they can be very cheap, and implemented on tablets, laptops, and smartphones which are already owned by most students.

Training is also a major factor. While it’s second nature for students to integrate with cutting edge devices, teachers usually require more effort and instruction to overcome the learning curve. This costs valuable resources that schools aren’t usually willing to dedicate to unproven tools. Older teachers especially seem to have a hard time, but can learn and flourish when given proper instruction.

Better engagement isn’t the only advantage of technology in the classroom. It’s also been shown to improve self esteem and skills in: accountability, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, global awareness, ethics, leadership, innovation, productivity, self-direction, and problem solving.

It’s very easy to say that technology is distracting, and that it should be banned from classrooms, but such a heavy handed snub of extremely powerful learning tools is foolish and shortsighted. Technology has been shown to improve self-esteem and attention span while preparing students for real world demands. It gives students and teachers an unprecedented access to information at the tips of their fingers, and it can be far more engaging than traditional methods. The millennial generation needs to receive information in a way that is compatible with their internet brains, and the only way to properly do that is through technology in the classroom.