Back to the Basics

After countless faculty meetings, student input sessions and online forums in a school-wide effort to guide Andover for the next five years, the Strategic Planning Task Force recently launched the Phillips Academy Strategic Plan 2014 website to centralize discussion. The “Proposed Strategies” section of the website lists 14 tentative goals the school hopes to accomplish in the years to come, one of which reads, “Explore and integrate the most appropriate use of different modes of pedagogy and new technologies in our teaching practices.”

At Andover, we have already begun to feel the impact of technology in the classroom. IPads are a requirement for the Russian Department and were used in trials with certain math and science courses last year. Some classes have employed the “flipped classroom” method in which students watch instructional videos outside of class and teachers work with students on problems in class. Such experiences have shown us, however, that despite its reputation as a successful tool for learning, technology does not always have a place in the classroom.

Technology often hinders the learning process. According to experiments conducted by psychological scientists Pam Mueller of Princeton and Dan Oppenheimer of UCLA this year, the more detailed notes students took on laptops and tablets also proved to be “mindless transactions,” thus cancelling out any benefits. While students who typed and hand-wrote their notes tested equally well on facts, the group with laptops performed significantly worse when tested about greater ideas.

When technology enters the classroom, more often than not it becomes a distraction. As a result, multitasking becomes the norm: while students have the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, we have yet to suppress the novelty of such easy access to Facebook, Twitter and other online distractions during valuable class time.

Students and teachers alike have yet to fully tame technology in the classroom. Teachers often lack the technological skill to advantageously incorporate these tools into their curriculum, reducing the amount of productive class time and creating a hindrance to students.

We are in no way anti-technology. The decision to move towards an effective use of technology is entirely necessary as we are pulled towards a digital age. We do, however, urge the administration to consider the way it is implemented in our classrooms.

Enhanced learning is a key tenant of the new technology strategy, yet the assumption that all students learn the same way and are better suited in a digital learning environment is ungrounded. Students know their own preferred modes of learning best and should have a choice in whether the class is taught from an iPad or a textbook. Arguably the most valuable assets of our education at Andover, the experience and expertise of teachers, cannot be replaced by instructional videos. The Course of Studies should list technology-driven classes and should inform students whether or not a course will use the “flipped classroom” method.

We are the transition generation. Unlike our younger siblings and cousins, we did not grow up with the innate ability to swipe between iPhone screens. The same goes for the way we are accustomed to learning in the classroom. Some may find new techniques just as effective, but that should not force those of us who value the weight of a pen in hand and the teacher at the whiteboard to adopt this new and often cumbersome technique.

Perhaps classes in the years to come will master the art of technology and will see direct benefits. As for us, we prefer the classroom that relies on human interaction as a form of innovation.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian CXXXVII Editorial Board.