Opinion

Fear of iPods and Facebook in classrooms does not compute

We expect businesses to use new technology. Why not teachers?

By

I remember a time when teachers jumped at the chance to use the latest technology in their classrooms. In fact, I remember the time about a decade ago when my administration gave me my first Apple computer to use in my room.

My students were all huddled around me as I investigated new learning tools. The graphics were terrible but it was like magic to my students. It lit their imaginations and sparked great discussions.

Today students have taken a fearless lead in online social networking and the creative use of new technologies. Technology has become a part of life for them and they want more of it in the classroom.

Many teachers and administrators, on the other hand, now seem to fear this. Some claim technology dumbs down students. They block social media sites like Facebook and Web-based e-mail because of a fear that it might be abused. They also reject the use of iPods and cellphones because they are distracting and encourage cheating.

News flash: These technologies are here to stay.

Just as it would be ridiculous to ask businesses, hospitals, or the government to use less technology, attempts to keep it out of school are futile and actually hurt schools and students in the long run.

Part of education is learning about and keeping up with the times. People who lack access to new technology are at a disadvantage. Can you imagine what would happen to someone who applied for a job and didn't understand the Internet today? What about applying to college without understanding how to write a proper e-mail?

I teach juniors and seniors in a small high school in New Hampshire.

I see how the Web has become a vital part of communicating throughout the college selection process. It's hard to imagine setting up college visits or looking for scholarship programs without it.

Schools have a responsibility to welcome such technology and use it to better associate with and teach their students, otherwise they'll miss out on the opportunity to really engage and prepare students.

Consider Facebook. It is one of the fastest growing online resources. Many major industries, nonprofits, and similar organizations use it to talk with their communities.

When our students go home at the end of the day, yes, they check out their friends' pages. But they also become fans of newspaper sites, cultural sites, and learn from the social network. We live in a world of mass communication. Why would anyone involved in education attempt to stymie opportunities for multiple ways of discovering, creating, researching, and communicating?

Social networking should be used in our classrooms to communicate with classrooms around the world. It could be the ultimate modern pen-pal exchange.

Some teachers argue against the use of audio digital players because they can easily be used to cheat. So can pencils and calculators but we don't ban them. Instead we encourage the positive use of them.

At school we have the unique opportunity to help young people develop productive habits as they use technology.

We should harness our students' enthusiasm for technology and encourage students to use their iPods to help them with school. Students could use podcasts to help them with their accents in foreign language classes. In 2005 Duke University conducted a study that found iPods helpful in that capacity.

Something as simple as having students record a lecture and then study it later could go a long way to engaging and inspiring students. Really, with the proper attitude and teacher training (and there are plenty of resources on the Web to give ideas and tips to teachers) the possibilities are endless.

All of this is not to say that technology should replace teachers or good teaching. Rather, it should be seen as an aid to teachers and a reality to embrace, not deny.

Sure, technology has a tendency to evolve quickly, and not all of it will be productive for classroom use. But shunning or categorically banning it out of fear is counterproductive.

Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer.

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