Marshall Brady: The downside of technology in the classroom

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, December 1, 2015

By Marshall Brady

Special to the Salisbury Post

In the fall of 2014, the Rowan-Salisbury School System under Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody, made a colossal push to implement technology. All students, in grades three through 12, were either issued an Apple iPad or a MacBook Air, with the focus on enhancing student success.

At Salisbury High School, we were issued laptops, and almost immediately the effects of the laptops could be seen in the classroom. Teachers started to use Schoology, a learning-based management system. Students now could view their grades, receive updates from their classes and complete online assignments at their convenience. This was very useful in classes such as English and history where assignments could be simply typed or completed on the laptops, and then turned in for a grade. The laptops were also perfect for writing and editing papers and sharing information, but they were not as handy in science and math classes.

Notes taken on the laptops in class could be saved in one place, and they were easier to find and access. This made note-taking convenient; you didn’t have to worry about losing your notes or keeping up with them, you only had to worry about losing your laptop. However, there are also drawbacks to typing notes. In a recent study done by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, scientists found that students tend to remember and understand concepts more when they hand-write notes rather than type them. They also found that students who type notes include more information, but they don’t retain that information as well as they should.

The main distraction to almost every student in regards to their laptop is that they can literally do anything else on their laptop, besides what they actually are supposed to be doing. For example, why should you do your work or take notes on your laptop when you could play a game, watch a movie, listen to music or even chat with your friend in another class?

I can safely say that almost every student at Salisbury High School and other high schools in the county, including the AP and honors students, has at least one game on his or her laptop or the temptation to do something else besides classwork. If the teacher comes over, you can exit that game with the touch of a button.

Sure, teachers can monitor the computers, but they can’t be everywhere at once, especially if students can close out a tab in less than a second.

One way to combat this problem is to implement a device in classrooms such as Webwatcher or Screen-retriever, where the teachers can actually see what is on the students’ screens. While this technology may be expensive, it offers a solution to the distractions provided by the laptops, which the school system has done little to nothing to address.

In addition to games and other laptop distractions, access to the Internet is a big problem in the classrooms. Now, don’t get me wrong, access to the Internet and the world of knowledge is not a bad thing if used correctly, but answers to worksheets and tests are on the Internet. If you give a student an hour to do an assignment online, they can find the answers in no time. Even though that it is wrong, students are probably going to choose to find the answers online every time. Unfortunately, no one learns anything that way, and it shows on test scores.

By now you are probably wondering, why don’t the teachers just go back to paper and pencil assignments and only use the laptops for writing essays, completing projects and other educational tasks? Why? Because teachers are now strongly encouraged — and almost forced — to implement the new technology in their classrooms, even if their class is not enhanced or benefited by laptops.

The school system has also drastically cut the number of copies that teachers can make for their classes, compared to previous years. This means when it comes to paper assignments and tests that might not be best presented on the laptops, teachers’ resources are limited.

In my opinion, the Rowan Salisbury School System’s plan to implement technology into the learning environment has flaws that have not been addressed. While the laptops are a great tool for typing papers, staying up to date with grades and assignments, they still provide many possible distractions that the school system has not yet addressed. The school system has tried so hard to make this multimillion-dollar investment work, but they have not taken every measure necessary to ensure that the laptops are successful in the classrooms. In order to maximize the laptops’ potential and capability, teachers need better tools to fight the major distractions laptops provide. Teachers also need tools and resources, and the freedom to use them, for assignments and classes that might be best taught without technology.

In my opinion, the laptops at Salisbury High School can be a great tool if used effectively, but we are not there yet. I strongly believe that one way to improve the school system is to reduce technology’s prominent influence in the classroom, and give the teachers what they want and need to effectively teach their classes the way they feel is best.

Marshall Brady is a senior at Salisbury High School.