Posted At: September 21, 2012, 11:49 P.M.
by Kristin Nelson
More and more classrooms are using iPads, laptops, smartphones and other technology as part of their teaching methods. Students from kindergarten through graduate school are learning the importance of touch screens and apps, while realizing how much easier life and learning can be with technology.
What impact is the influx of technology in the classroom having on students? What type of professionals are being cultivated in grade school classrooms? How will future public relations professionals set themselves apart from their technology and social media-friendly peers?
In 1925, Thomas Edison predicted, “Books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye” (Dunn, 2011). Edison may be correct in his prediction, although the progression has taken a few more years than he thought.
It may seem that tablets and smartphones are the only innovations education has seen; therefore, everyone should be concerned about their use in the classroom. However, new “technology” has always found its way into the learning environment.
Consider the Magic Lantern in the 1870s. It was the first form of a projector-type device used to allow all students in a classroom to look at an image on the wall. Soon after, in 1890, nearly every student had a “slate” at his desk. Like a mini chalkboard, the slate was used to do individual work and wiped clean after every problem. Around the same time, the chalkboard was becoming popular. It seemed like a major breakthrough then, but it became a staple in the learning environment. In the 1900s, projectors became more and more popular, followed by headphones and videotapes. Photocopiers and televisions also made their way into school offices and classrooms. The introduction of the handheld calculator in 1970 was highly controversial, as teachers thought they would decrease students’ ability to calculate on their own.
Each of these innovations has progressed and now teachers use tablets, clickers, apps and smartphones to encourage students to learn interactively. Will these objects eventually seem as obsolete as the school slate?
Benefits of technology
Technology allows students to learn interactively and engage with their teachers. Geoff Price, a doctoral student pursuing a Ph.D. in Instructional Leadership with an emphasis in Instructional Technology, is a strong supporter of technology in the classroom.
“I think that students learn most effectively when given opportunities to construct their own learning through hands-on, exploratory activities. Students need opportunities to actively discover information rather than passively receive it through a digital medium,” said Price.
Price believes in the benefits of learning with technology, rather than from it, an idea popularized by recognized educational scholar David Jonassen. The use of clickers and apps can only enhance learning by allowing students to engage and interact with the content and each other.
Price described the use of a “flipped classroom.” Traditionally, students learn information at school, then go home to do projects and homework that demonstrate what they learned. Now, teachers are beginning to provide information that students take home and learn on their devices. The students return to school and demonstrate what they learned through interactive projects and assignments. Students are able to learn at their own pace and actively engage in their education. Learning is fun and interesting, complete with videos and sound, motion and links.
Technology creates a generation that is more comfortable with computers, software and a quickly changing environment. The next generation will be able to think outside the box, have more creative outlets and be quicker to adopt innovations.
Technology in the classroom has several downsides. According to Dr. Lawrence F. Kohl, associate professor of history at The University of Alabama, the use of technology in education has mostly been negative.
“Education is becoming less human, more mechanistic, more petty, less thoughtful, more shallow, more career/skill-oriented and more expensive,” said Kohl.
He asserted that computers are beginning to replace the value and authority of good, caring teachers who can understand students and their individual learning needs. Additionally, students are losing the basics. They are increasingly unable to read and write correctly. Online reading is not the same as traditional reading; it is more like “skimming” the information.
“The computer and the smartphone are engines of distraction that make it difficult to concentrate. Ads and hyperlinks train the brain to flit about and think shallowly,” said Kohl.
Additionally, Kohl noted that the use of tablets and smartphones limit student interaction with each other. Technology leaves students virtually isolated from their peers. They never learn the value of compromise and teamwork because technology enables them to learn what they want, when they want, how they want. Character traits are faltering because students respect computers more than their teachers, and they never develop a strong work ethic. Students think all learning and activity should be quick and easy; if it takes hard work, it is not fun, and they are not interested.
Future of PR professionals
Where do these innovations leave the future of public relations? The next generation of professionals will have been raised with devices in-hand. They will be familiar with tools that professionals today are only just beginning to value. The PR professionals of tomorrow will likely be creative, able to think differently and ready to embrace change. But will they know the basics?
If students never learn the value of truly expressing themselves in more than 140 characters, what will the field of public relations become? If students never learn to interact with each other except through their devices, then public relations may lose the irreplaceable human element that makes the field so special.
Basic reading and writing skills are fundamental to public relations, and while new ideas are important, they must be expressed easily to the masses. Teachers must ensure that they use technology to teach the basics, rather than replace them, in order to guarantee the safety of public relations, the workforce, and society at large.