In the past few months, I have posted a handful of articles on various technologies or websites, discussing their quality, comparing them, looking at the implications… All in all, I have really been focusing on tiny details which reside inside a much greater question: should schools promote the use of ICTs in classrooms? Should technology take over our education and send pencils, paper and blackboards to a long and peaceful retirement, a deep slumber from which they would only be awoken for the occasional power shortage? Let’s look at the main arguments on both sides (as a warm-up, you may want to watch the videos on this website. But then, you’re probably so eager to read the rest of the article…).
The advantages of ICTs over conventional (which is the polite word I will use as a synonym of old-, and very old-, fashioned) methods are certainly very numerous. First and foremost, ICTs, as mentioned by Patricia B. Arinto in her very complete slideshare presentation on the subject, allow for an “exponential increase in information”. ICTs allow users to access much more information than any amount of books, and this information can also be accessed much more quickly. Moreover, the use of technology can nowadays be equivalent to saving money. How? For example, it can be assumed that all students have access to a computer outside of school. Thus, sending their homework by email to their teacher is actually a totally free (and ecologic) substitute for printing them (this use of technology is used by a teacher going under the name of ICTlady who works in a school where budgets are extremely limited). The third main argument in favour of ICTs is that it is highly motivational for students (if you don’t believe me, read over this very complete study, it is kind of totally convincing…). Many students do not like school because they do not understand its use in the “real world”; using ICTs makes school much more representative of students’ everyday lives, and so much more apparently relevant.
However, using ICTs in school also has its downfalls. First of all, the implantation of these technologies does require a significant investment from schools. Although they may be profitable in the long run, interactive whiteboards, computers and tablets do come at a high cost. Moreover, giving students constant access to the internet for educational purposes is a bonus, but it comes with a major problem: it gives students constant access to the internet for non-educational purposes. And no matter how many sites the school board decides to block, I can guarantee that students will find new sites which can effectively eat up their time and attention. Thus, ICTs in school can be seen as one more temptation on the Everest-shrinking mountain of temptations that students have to get off-task in school.
There are also two arguments that are advanced against ICTs which I consider to be ill-based, and so will attempt to demolish for you. First of all, some will argue that the internet is not a reliable source of information because it contains a lot of, well, crap (this argument is brought up with a bit more decorum in this other great slideshare presentation). That is true. But people are always faced with false information, and we must simply learn to filter it ourselves, to deal with this reality. So why not learn it in school? Isn’t school made exactly to prepare us for real life? The second argument, which is mentioned in Kelly’s blog article amongst others, is that teachers are not up to date with those technologies, that they cannot keep up. To me, that is equivalent to saying that teachers should not discuss actuality, news or important events because they may not have kept up. It is a teacher’s duty to keep up, to prepare students for life tomorrow and not for life ten years ago.
And now that the main arguments have been put on the table (or screen, sorry, I can’t help if I grew up in a “conventional” school), I feel the need to present another counter argument. I wrote that ICTs can monopolise students’ attention, and I will not withdraw that. However, in a boring class, am old window sill can monopolize a student’s attention. Students have always been world champions for going off task, and the only way to stop them from doing so is not withdraw anything interesting from their sight, but to get an interesting teacher in front of them.
So overall, to me, the debate on ICTs can be taken down to this: they are a source of huge knowledge, and they motivate students, but is it worth the money?
And, between you and me, is that really a serious question?