If you give a kid an iPad, will their grades improve? Will they enjoy school more? Will they have a brighter future?
Each generation has learned with the technology it’s been given. Colonial kids wrote their lessons in simple wooden horn books. German teachers taught Albert Einstein his ABCs using chalk and a blackboard.
Despite exciting advances in modern technology, our school systems are still full of underachievement. Steve Jobs himself admitted in a Wired interview that the challenges schools face today will not be solved with technology.
So why bother?
There is no magic to digital tools. Exceptional learning can happen with or without a [name your device of choice]. And yet there are numerous excellent reasons for today’s schools to champion modern technology in the classroom.
In our recent roundtable discussion on “How Tech-Driven Schools Survive and Thrive,” I talked with two IT leaders who have pushed modern tools in their districts and have found the results to be 100% worth the effort. Here’s why technology is important in education—in their words.
How important is technology in education?
1. Modern tech empowers students to take ownership of their education.
After Lisa Nelson of Douglass Independent School District rolled out a 1:1 Chromebook program for her 7-12 grade students, she said that the immediate feedback she received was that students were being empowered to invest in their own education. With devices at their fingertips and robust Wi-Fi available across campus, students now had “no excuse to not immediately find information,” said Lisa.
Giving students tools to actively participate in their learning ensures that the responsibility for learning isn’t just on teachers. Thanks to technology, students can play a bigger part in their own learning than they might realize.
2. Modern tech is essential for staying competitive.
Lisa believes helping students become digitally savvy prepares them for college and the business field. As Director of IT for a rural district located two hours northeast of Houston, Texas, she worked hard to implement a wireless infrastructure and fast Internet in her school, despite facing significant challenges due to their location off the beaten path.
“Our struggle is to stay competitive with other school districts who have more staff and more money,” she said. “We don’t want our students to be at a disadvantage. We try as best we can to stay current with whatever technology is best for our teachers and students.”
3. Using digital tools can drive down costs long-term.
From a physical perspective, technology can be incredibly cost-effective in the long run. Matt Federoff of Vail School District has seen this firsthand. As CIO, he oversees an entirely textbook-free district and has seen the cost benefits. At the high school level, “providing four years of traditional textbooks costs between $400 and $500,” but you can buy a student a Chromebook for less than $300, he said, making laptops a compelling alternative to paper textbooks.
4. Education technology often increases academic performance.
Matt says Vail School District is among the top five school districts in Arizona in terms of academic performance, despite diverse demographics, rapid growth over the last decade, and Arizona’s last-place position compared to other U.S. states with regards to the amount of per-student funding they receive. “With the thoughtful use of tech for instruction and driving down costs, we’ve been able to maintain really high academic performance, even while growing at an absurd rate,” he said.
5. Students (and teachers and parents) expect digital learning experiences.
“Pervasive, reliable wireless connectively” is the expectation of today’s teachers and students, so Matt’s IT team provides it—in every classroom, school bus, and corner of his district. Increasingly, younger teachers also expect to be using digital tools as part of their curriculum.
Devices are part of a child’s world, so incorporating them into education is simply a continuation of their everyday life.
Are you championing the usage of modern tools in your school? If you’re facing opposition from stakeholders or old-school staff who are dubious that modern technology matters, try bringing some of these points to the table. No one ever said innovation was risk-free, but as many educators have found, it’s often worth the leap.
For more advice from tech-savvy school leaders, watch our on-demand webinar "How Tech-Driven Schools Survive and Thrive."