Purposeless Integration

Remember the iPad pilot? The once-ubiquitous blue-covered tablets quietly disappeared from campus this year in response to an overall lack of use. Frankly, I applaud the roll back. While technology certainly enhances our education in some ways, the school needs to be more discriminant with its incorporation of technology.

In my Japanese 100 class, for example, I think the use of technology actually detracted from my learning experience. To study for tests and quizzes, I primarily relied on Quizlet – an online flashcard and quiz tool – to practice typing out Japanese letters and phrases. I felt confident in my Japanese abilities after earning good grades on these online quizzes, but when I settled down to actually write out the Japanese alphabet by hand, I found that I could not recall the letters I had typed out so assuredly on my keyboard.

I am not alone: numerous pedagogical studies corroborate my own experience. In a 2001 study “Reading Online or on Paper: Which is Faster?” the authors asserted that students read material 10-30 percent slower on a screen than on paper. In addition, a 2012 study by Karin James, Associate Professor in the Cognition and Action Neuroimaging Lab at Indiana University, concluded that children’s brains were more stimulated by scribbling letters and shapes on a blank piece of paper than by tracing on a dotted line or typing letters out. In support of the study, Stanislas Dehaene, Chair in Experimental Cognitive Psychology at the Collège de France in Paris, wrote, “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.”

That said, it is also impossible to ignore educational strides made by implementing technology in some classrooms. In math classes, online tools like Desmos – a user-friendly, online graphing calculator – allow students to easily visualize abstract mathematical ideas. In addition, Khan Academy’s online practice problems have proven to be effective supplements to class time lectures and textbook material.

Ultimately, Andover needs to discern the advantages and disadvantages of specific tools and resources for each individual department – even each course – and implement the technologies appropriately. Surveys in every class may help teachers and administrators evaluate the usefulness of technology in specific classes and departments.

For example, while the use of technology may be very advantageous in high-level language courses, 100-level language classes should refrain from using technological devices and instead focus on increasing proficiency in writing, speaking and reading without any online aids.

On the other hand, certain departments may opt to avoid certain tools altogether. In an article in the February 20 issue of The Phillipian, Paul Cernota, Instructor and Chair in Chemistry, said, “I think, like any device, [the iPad] has its good points and its bad points… But I don’t think they are required, which is why I haven’t required iPads for my students.” Rather, in the science departments, online textbooks like the chemistry textbook “Non-Sibi High School” have proven more effective than iPads.

Classroom technology should enhance and deepen learning without being a distraction. Since every course is different in terms of its technological needs, it is the task of each individual department to figure out which digital tools do or do not work.