How Technology in the Classroom is Destroying Education

By Nick McDaniels — For the last two decades, a major component of many models of classroom success has been the incorporation of technology. Teachers are encouraged, and many are expected ( for me, it’s a facet of my evaluation), to use technology as part of the delivery of instruction. What has gained even more support in terms of funding, is finding ways to have students using technology in the classroom interactively.

Fortunate to grow up in the age of technology, a product of the digital generation, though often times more of a Luddite than many in my generation, I have recently urged myself to reflect on the way technology has impacted my learning and the way it impacts the learning of my students.

When I was in elementary school, teachers were commended for their use of film-strips and audiobooks.

When I was in middle school and high school, teachers were commended for their use of the television, VCRs and DVD players, and their occasional lesson that brought a class of students into a computer lab.

Since I have become a teacher, we are commended for our use of LCD projectors, Smart Boards, document cameras (of which, I have none in my classroom), etc… All of this technology, with the support of at least one computer in every classroom, has undoubtedly transformed the way students receive and interact with class material for the better.

As of now, since I have briefly chronicled my experience with technology in the classroom and sung its praises, you are probably thinking one of two things: 1) This post should really have a different title, or 2) Get to the point.

My response to both thoughts: despite the fact that technology in the hands of students and teachers has allowed for the effective instruction of many incredibly diverse learners, one single technological innovation is single-handedly destroying the relationship between teachers, students, and the materials they share.

Enter the cellular phone. Despite the fact that schools and school systems everywhere have banned the use, and, in some cases, the possession of cell phones, most any teacher will tell you, these bans are ineffective for a number of reasons and the use of cell phones in the classroom has skyrocketed over recent years.

Students, or as they have become, teenage text machines, use any number of tricks to fool teachers into thinking they are not texting in class. The girls put their purses on their laps and text from inside of them. The boys turn their books vertically on the desk and pretend to be reading when they are really texting. The bold and defiant students hold their phones above the desk and text. The most bold will even answer or place a call during class. The excuses, many of them employing a justification instead of a denial defense, from students are endless: 1) “It’s my mother. What if it’s an emergency?,” 2) “It’s my friend, she needs her notebook from my backpack,” 3) “I was just checking the time,” or my personal favorite, 4) “I don’t even have a phone.”

Needless to say, as students send and receive text after text in class to and from other students, the 21st century version of passing notes in class, or as is now capable, between classes, has become more instantaneous, more discreet, and more distracting. Often, when teachers confront students about the offense of using a mobile device during class, teachers, or at least in my experience, are met with more opposition than any teacher would ever want. I have been cursed at more over cell phones than I have about anything else since I have been teaching, and I have been cursed at quite a number of times.

In my world, the single biggest inhibitor to learning is the use of cell phones by students. The solution to this is more complex than it seems. Banning cell phones seems like an appropriate answer. Students don’t need them in school. Even in emergencies (as is usually the justification provided by students and parents for students having cell phones in their possessions), loved ones can always contact the school to get messages to students. However, most areas where cell phones are major problems already have bans in place. These bans are largely unenforceable.

Equipping all schools with cell-phone scramblers seems like an even better answer, but when many staff members rely on cell phones to call for help during in school emergencies or to contact parents of students because phones that dial to the outside world are hard to come by, this solution could do just as much harm as good.

Since neither of the options is viable for me right now, I deal with cell phones on a case by case basis. Telling students that if I catch them with phones, I will confiscate them, and if they hand them over without a fight, they will get them back at the end of class. This compromise does not help keep cell phones out of schools, or help other teachers with the battle, but it does temporarily allow me to reduce one distraction from an educational world that is full of them.

If you want to increase test scores and increase the amount of time on task in a class, the clear answer is to reduce the amount of distractions to students. On my account, cell phones provide one of the largest distractions to students. In short, a logical step in the direction of re-engaging students in the process of learning, is to remove cell phones from the classroom. All options for accomplishing this task, including legislative action restricting cell phone use by users and service by providers, should be exhausted.

One thing is for sure, no matter how well a teacher can engage students with the use of technology in the classroom, until legislatures, parents, schools and teachers find an effective way to keep cell phones out of schools, one little piece of technology will out-compete the rest for the attention of students, and thus work to destroy education as we know it.

7 Responses to “How Technology in the Classroom is Destroying Education”


  1. 1 JL December 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    I found the less of a deal I made out of the phones, the less of a problem they became. I find more often that my college students are more of a problem with texting while their fellow classmates are discussing. I always have a lecture about manners in my back pocket. I usually only have to give that lecture once a semester and I don’t see it again.

    I have more trouble with students facebook chatting while taking notes, even if it is only a 15 minute lecture/intro to the discussion or wrapping up a unit. I find that most of these issues are solved if I never sit still and keep them on their toes.

    Like

  2. 2 nickmcdaniels December 18, 2010 at 6:02 am

    Your last line about keeping students on their toes cannot be stressed enough. Especially for young teachers. I call them “distraction tactics.” And its what amounts to the classroom version of smoke screens and covering fire. I keep noise makers handy, yell random words frequently, talk really fast, really loud, really slow, really soft, in funny voice, and sing on occasion. All the while the students are thinking about how crazy I am and absorbing to some extent the information presented to them.

    Thanks for sharing that, because the days of “sit and get” instruction are certainly gone.

    Like

  3. 3 Scott May 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    You are only touching the tip of the iceberg. “How Technology in the Classroom is Destroying Education”.

    I work in educational IT and my wife is a teacher, She’s a chemical engineer from Russia. After working in the US for 7 years now, she now understands my exact statement “Technology is Destroying Education”. I’m not going to reference studies or compare how much better education is in other countries (although I did,sorry), but I will state the obvious.

    In the state we live in, handwriting skills are all but eliminated, print or cursive is replaced by keyboards and spell check has all but eliminated the need to spell. Calculators and IPad apps are replacing handwritten math problems, science examples show interactively on a computer, not in a lab. There is no end to the distraction and destruction technology is causing to the modern classroom.

    Just because it’s available, curriculum directors feel the need to have it present. Just because you can do something with technology doesn’t make it right.
    Most of the time the kids know any form of technology better than the teacher, but to the teachers and administration, it’s still some sort of fascinating gimmick that’s really just neat to them.

    Traditional education needs to come back. Kids have enough technology at home. They don’t need it at school and the taxpayers should not be footing the bill for a thousand IPads.
    My wife has veered from technology driven assignments and went back to basics. She now is recognized for pulling up test scores drastically as well as doing it in two languages, English and Spanish. Note, lots of dual language in Illinois. How did you do it! they ask.

    American should realize that our system is lacking. In Russia for instance high algebra and geometry can start in as low as 3rd grade. Two languages were mandatory as she learned English by 2nd grade. I’m not trying to toot her horn, but she has three masters as well as an almost finished doctorate. The three masters were achieved in Russia before she moved here in her late 20’s. She speaks five languages. I thought this was unique, but I later realized that was quite common in the post-soviet era. With no or little technology!

    Most of her family and friends are in the same academic range, although she was the lowest achiever in her family; as they joked about her being a teacher in the US.

    Little technology is needed to produce dynamic future generations. Our current system is a joke, smoke and mirrors. Parents rarely realize how lacking their children are in fundamental skills.
    It won’t be long before we all realize that we were wrong, and it will be too late. If anyone thinks otherwise a little research might convince yourself. Or did we forget how to do that too?

    Also, Im not Criticizing teachers in the US, they are just following the curriculum guidelines set by their state. So long as US teachers can teach higher math and science; the amount of teachers that fail the basic skills test to be a teacher is still a bit high, although you can keep taking it up to 5 times. Most pass eventually, but this is BASIC skills.

    Im only recommending we go back to handwriting and better math programs. Dump the tech and save the $. I may be out a job, but thats better than the overall picture.

    We don’t have kids, but we do care for the future of this country.

    I would love to hear other opinions on tech in the classroom. Will check back….

    Like

    • 4 JB March 29, 2013 at 11:36 am

      Scott – you have some great insights here. I am about to embark on my own grad school adventure, studying learning sciences, and until very recently was on the verge of accepting admittance to a PhD program in instructional technology. Then it occurred to me, “hey, I don’t even like technology.” Your thoughts help confirm my suspicions. Maybe I will join the ranks of those who are studying the harmful effects of technology on education and society, as that is much more the side I stand with.

      Like


  1. 1 Are cell phones really evil? | Techspiration Trackback on February 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm
  2. 2 The Three? Levels of Mobile Device Integration | Joe Benfield Trackback on June 30, 2011 at 11:26 am
  3. 3 Warming Up to Technology in the Classroom « The Marquette Educator Trackback on December 9, 2011 at 6:21 am

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