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One Teen’s Take on EdTech

Soraya Shockley on Tuesday, May. 19th

Remember when a TI-84 was the most technologically advanced tool in the classroom? I don’t! Tech has always been a part of my high school reality. But as digital and traditional learning mix and mingle, reactions have exploded over whether “EdTech” is enhancing or hindering education.

On this question, we usually hear from teachers, parents, administrators, tech companies, and investors clamoring to fund them. Now, it’s time for teens to talk. Let me tell you what my friends and I really think about technology in the classroom. Some of it’s great, but for those EdTech enthusiasts out there, well, hold on because the truth may hurt.

Tablets

For as much educational value as tablets can contribute, they also come with the unending source of entertainment called THE INTERNET! If you look at the screens of kids in my class, you’ll likely find apps like Minecraft, Candy Crush, and don’t forget Netflix on mute with subtitles. School administrations basically play Internet whack-a-mole as they try to enforce firewalls and blocks that students continually find ways around.

The point is that tablets are unwieldy. If left unchecked by teachers, there’s no telling what kids are doing behind their screens.

Wise to tablets’ distraction potential, some teachers have banned them completely. But that seems ridiculous, considering that sometimes students were required to buy tablets, therefore wasting a couple hundred bucks by not using them. Teachers need to find a happy medium, like having tablet-free lessons followed by a tablet-integrated activity. Also, teachers should consider using laptops instead. They feel more serious, and the addition of a keyboard facilitates actual work and note taking. Laptops may lack the sleek design appeal of their tablet counterparts, but they are far more functional as teaching tools, and a better long-term investment in EdTech.

So yes, tablets can be used to create a new age of interconnected classrooms of the future — but they are just as likely to turn into procrastination stations. You have been warned.

Teacher Websites

Like a good little pupil, my first move after school everyday is to boot up my teachers’ websites on an oh-so-eager hunt for my homework assignments. If I’m lucky, a teacher proficient in the dark arts of web design will gift me with a clean, easy-to-use web page. Conversely, an — ahem — older faculty member might construct a lime-green monstrosity that truly should be ashamed to call itself a website.

If teachers feel like students are judging them, that’s because we are. We grew up in an age of immaculately designed websites that were made to be user-friendly.

I pity the poor English teacher out there who definitely didn’t sign up for web design when applying for the job, but times are changing. Nowadays, students often have more knowledge than teachers when it comes to tech. So if teachers are struggling even to post homework, or are leaving students to navigate a site that looks like MySpace circa 1999, it makes them look, to put it simply, outdated.

To remedy the inconsistency, my suggestion is to teach the teachers. Introducing, drum roll please, teacher website building bootcamp! All joking aside, schools should introduce technical support for struggling teachers so that students won’t have to suffer through any more clumsy attempts at websites.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom makes the old “the dog ate my homework” excuse totally obsolete. How am I supposed to justify my tardy homework when everything is turned in online?! This is causing a true teenage crisis. The latest Google product lets teachers assign, collect, check, and track work all on a cleanly designed webpage. It’s basically a really fancy version of the aforementioned teacher websites.

The system seems great for tech-savvy teachers, but it does put a few stressful requirements on students. In order to use it effectively in a classroom, everyone needs a tablet or laptop, which gets expensive and introduces distractions.

Right now, only one of my teachers has a Google Classroom page, so it doesn’t have a big impact on my schooling. However, if I look into my tech-predicting crystal ball, I can see Google Classroom playing a larger role in education — as long as there is uniform adoption throughout a school.

Khan Academy

Homework. My adult friends say it still shows up in nightmares decades after graduation. Truly, there is nothing more upsetting than not understanding a subject and not being able to find help quickly. Well, fret no more. Khan Academy is a web-based program that provides explanations, tools, and support on a vast array of topics. Khan Academy started as a Youtube channel but has now expanded into an online community and an easy-to-use app. With an arsenal of thousands of free videos that teach lessons ranging from trigonometry to Prehistoric art in Europe and West Asia, Khan Academy is like an at-home personal tutor.

For the sake of complete disclosure, Khan Academy has saved my life. In my most desperate of hours, after spending an agonizing night trying to figure out what in the world a derivative is, I turned to Khan. To my relief, the website had video after video of explanations and examples. It was like the angry storm clouds of calculus broke and I could see the light. Actually, I just went to sleep, but still!

However, the drawback of relying too heavily on good ol’ Khan is that its videos simply cannot provide students with everything we need to know. I see Khan Academy as an amazing supplement to in-class learning, not a replacement.

Twitter

Hi, my name is Soraya and I am a social media-holic. I, like many of my teenage peers, spend copious amounts of time compulsively checking social media.

The chime of a tweet, the flash of a notification, and the beep of a Facebook message all seem to capture youth attention, which is why there has been a push to integrate social media into education. A leader in the social EdTech charge is Twitter, the home of vibrant conversations confined to 140 characters or less. Teachers use Twitter as a platform to track major events with hashtags, pose discussion questions, or update students with daily assignments.

The idea of “meeting the kids where they are” is admirable, but the teenage sphere of social media can be unforgiving.

Teachers: Before you use social media for education, consider the risks. Twitter conversations are public and completely subject to trolling, when people purposefully target, provoke, and offend online. Trolling can cause a perfectly educational discussion to devolve into a heated argument that a teacher cannot control. Cyberbullying is still alive and well. Imagine a student trying to add an important, poignant comment to a class Twitter feed and not only getting no retweets or likes, but also being ridiculed for sharing an opinion. Teachers and students will be at the mercy of the Wild West of Twitter. The Internet can be swift and cruel. Twitter especially is not for the faint of heart.

Despite the rather scary picture I just painted, Twitter holds immense promise in its ability to connect teachers, classrooms, and schools to students and issues we care about. The best part of using social media in education is that people like me — who obsessively use social media anyway — can now do so in an academically constructive way. My hope is that young people will be taken more seriously, as education and social media converge.

If social media becomes an educational forum, then youth can gain respect and power. Digital networks like Twitter have the potential to connect our classrooms to people with a lot of power to create change in a world that needs changing.

But the way most teens use Twitter does not foster in-depth academic dialogue. People share trivial things like “Just ate breakfast #yum” or cat pics. The character constraints can make real conversations on Twitter harried and unfocused. So also consider blog settings like Tumblr.

Interactive White Boards

A touch capable projector screen… Yeah, I don’t see the big whoop for this one. It’s cheaper to hook an iPad up to a projector than to splurge on this thing. Clunky, expensive, and dare I say sometimes dumb, interactive white boards have not been the wave of the future as expected. The biggest selling point is how students can interact with the board. But the limited applications make these boards not worth their price tag, which can run $1,000 and up.

Evernote

Evernote is a free app that allows users to create notebooks and make notes in an intuitive and easy way. Along with other notebook-esque apps like Notability, Evernote strives to organize and simplify note-taking by putting all possible needs in one place. With Evernote, you can write text, take photos, set reminders, chat with other students, and make lists. But wait… isn’t that just like a bunch of other apps combined? Umm, yeah.

Really though, I should be honest with you. The truth is I will never like Evernote or other note-taking apps because I am an old-timey pen and paper type gal. A tactile learner, if you will. So when my AP English teacher required that we use Evernote to download daily schedules and to share our in-class notes with her, I just wasn’t having it. People have been trying to capture the notebook experience with the addition of styluses and connectable keyboards, but for me, nothing will be the same as flipping open the real thing. Sorry, Evernote: it’s not you, it’s me.

Google Drive

Remember when you used to have to carry around school supplies? Lol, how silly was that! Now, you can just log into Google Drive and have access to folders filled with Docs, Sheets, Slides, and so much more. Sure, it’s a total rip off of Microsoft Word, but who cares…it’s Google.

I love the sharability of work on Drive. Or is that a negative? On the one hand, being able to share docs can create a collaborative experience in which students help each other and teachers can comment and make corrections. On the other hand, students will be students, and sharability can transform into peer sabotage and, sometimes, cheating. The idea of academic integrity and privacy only becomes more complex as classrooms ramp up their interconnectivity.

TBH, while a few teens can be vindictive, I think the real reason to share a Doc is so you can chat with your friends. I mean, English class can get boooorrring.

My favorite thing about Google drive (sarcasm alert) is doing online group projects. There is nothing better than harassing and cajoling partners into doing their share of the project. Even better is when one partner types over what you just wrote!

Though EdTech seems like it’s here to stay, I think that technology in the classroom has a long way to go before being used effectively. The issues that plague EdTech are major — cheating, distraction, privacy concerns, inconsistency in implementation, inequality in access, and price.

I truly believe that the most memorable parts of my education have come when a teacher has taken the time to sit down and talk me through an equation, or given an impassioned speech on how sodium and chlorine become salt. The next step for EdTech is to foster and enhance those memorable moments in school, get teens excited to learn, and make students feel invested in their education anew. While I still have qualms about where EdTech is today, I predict that with time, there will only be more technology saturation, more tech-literate kids, and more opportunities to use tech in the classroom.

One day, I’ll become the crotchety old grandma who says, “Back in my day, we only had iPads, not hologram decks.” And some young whippersnapper will respond, “Well, let me tell you how teens really feel about holograms.”


 

Previously published on BRIGHT, the Medium publication about Innovation in Education.

Soraya Shockley is a reporter at Youth Radio, publishers of Turnstyle News.

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