Do you really need classroom technology?

Educational technology is growing in popularity, but does it really improve the learning experience?

As technology has become more integrated into daily life, we've seen its presence increase in classrooms. In the 1990s, students maybe had a TV in their classrooms, along with projectors. A rare class piloted using laptops. Now, it's not uncommon to see K-12 students carrying around their school-issued tablets and laptops, and many classrooms are equipped with smartboards. And while there are many merits of including technology in learning environments, it's easy to wonder whether every new gadget is worth the investment. Does an interactive whiteboard really provide better learning outcomes than a traditional whiteboard, for instance? Today, we investigate the benefits of interactive whiteboards.

Teaching styles matter

A study published in the Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education sought to discover whether interactive whiteboards affected student learning. Researchers had educators and students at one school fill out a survey regarding their experiences with the whiteboard. They discovered that users had the most positive experience when the teacher tailored his or her pedagogical approach to better suit the technology. Educators whose teaching style did not jive with the whiteboard did not have as positive of an experience, nor did their students.

It's important to note here that user experience was affected by pedagogical approach, but that researchers did not check student grades or test results. To discover whether this technology provides a tangible improvement requires researchers to take test scores into account.

Do you really need classroom technology?

In some cases, traditional tools can provide just as many learning benefits as technology.

Money matters

No matter what educational technology you assess, money is always a factor. Schools have limited budgets - some more so than others. What's more, not all students have access to technology. As such, all schools must ask an important question when considering a certain piece of technology: Are the benefits it may provide worth the money? Without a clear idea of how much technology will help students, schools are less likely to take risks in paying for the items.

Compare the costs of interactive whiteboards, for example. They range in price, but, for the most part, smartboards cost upward of $1,000 and sometimes as much as $3,000 a board. A traditional whiteboard is cheaper, but still pricey and bulky. WriteyBoard products are the most affordable option for schools. A re-stickable WriteyBoard is lightweight, easy to install and customizable. What's more, it's cheaper than both traditional and interactive whiteboards.

"Schools should carefully consider technology before integrating it into classrooms."

Weighing options

As the above study mentioned, how well students and teacher receive educational technology depends largely on how the educator uses it. Aside from smartboards, other technologies can help students perform well in class and on exams. Because there is so much hardware and software available to schools now, saying using educational technology is beneficial is impossible. Some items are more effective than others, and you have the human component to consider.

For this reason, schools should carefully consider each piece of technology before they decide to integrate it into classrooms. For instance, they can research a certain item, then pilot it in one classroom. If it goes well, then it may be worth the investment for the whole school to use. What's more, schools should train educators in how to use the technology effectively to ensure the item actually helps students.

Many educators argue that technology should be in every classroom. After all, students will need to know how to use it for future careers, and they're becoming more used to interactive learning styles. However, if the technology doesn't significantly alter the classroom experience and doesn't provide more information and interactivity than its traditional counterpart, it's likely not worth the investment. After all, why pay more money for a service a less-expensive tool can do?

Do schools need interactive whiteboards and other classroom technology? The answer isn't simple. In many ways, yes - it may prepare students for a tech-driven future. However, not all new gadgets will really improve learning outcomes. Schools will have to decide for themselves whether a technology is beneficial or merely a trend.

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