There is an increasingly vocal debate these days between educators and parents on low-tech versus high-tech tools and resources for educating young people.
With all the cutting-edge electronic gadgetry, apps and devices to help our families manage their lives better, many believe society has lost sight of the perfect simplicity of learning achieved through more tangible approaches that are part and parcel of a whole philosophy of learning; teaching through the use of flashcards, blackboard writing and counting lessons with objects such as marbles and coins in the lower-grades and oral presentations, collaborative writing, peer reviews, journaling and newspaper-clipping for classroom discussions and collages in upper grades.
These have all been tried-and-true tools for teaching students of many ages, and they seem to exercise and strengthen areas in the developing brain that are not engaged when students learn via digital imagery. The experienced-based approach builds on the premise that many students learn best when a multitude of senses are involved. The website Noodle.com explains PBL, or Project-Based Learning, thusly; “Project-Based Learning is an innovative, systematic teaching method that promotes student engagement through deep investigations of complex questions. Put simply: It’s learning by doing.”
PBL encourages critical thinking through active participation and eschews gadgets and electronic devices, except when used in conjunction with each other.
As a parent, I share the concern of many that our electronic excesses may render us less empathetic or less-attuned to the feelings and emotions of others. But with a shortage of textbooks in public schools and many in disrepair and out-of-date, it seems only prudent to look for alternatives and also to consider the enormous toll it takes on young bodies to lug a backpack full of textbooks.
Educational programs that include some form of hands-on, low-tech lesson plan along with incorporating the beneficial components of modern technology invariably show positive results and turn out a well-rounded student, skilled at working with many mediums in school.
The Whole Child Initiative (wholechildeducation.org) is a program that seeks to perfect the balance between technology-based instruction and the hands–on approach. According to their website, “The demands of the 21st century require a new approach to education to fully prepare students for college, career and citizenship. Research, practice, and common sense confirm that a whole child approach to education will develop and prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow by addressing students’ comprehensive needs through the shared responsibility of students, families, schools and communities.”
In order for our children to keep up with a changing workforce as they emerge from school, they must learn to adapt to our digital society and use these tools to their advantage. E-Readers, Smartphones, tablets and digital notebooks have enabled us to keep vast amounts of information stored that the human brain simply isn’t capable of absorbing and processing. And, as tools for learning, these items are not only recommended but often required in some schools.
But one needn’t swing from one extreme to another. There is a balance that is not only achievable but often preferable to the sole implementation of a particular doctrine.
Several key benefits to E-Readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle series, and the Nook brand by Barnes & Noble, are the ease of purchase for all types of literary needs, such as downloadable textbooks. Even a decent Smartphone can accomplish twice the tasks of the high-powered computers in use a decade ago. Many of these devices also come with parental control options and software to ensure safe-surfing guidelines are practiced. With tablets, notebooks and laptops teachers can offer assistance handily via email for students struggling with assignments, and tutoring websites such as Khan Academy offer first-rate assistance for all levels of math proficiency.
Recently, the Google Docs platform has emerged as a popular choice for document-sharing and editing by multiple users, making it a perfect choice for class or group projects.
Savvy and creative teachers have learned that lesson plans can include elements of both low- and high-tech learning, such as the global classroom Skype exchange, in which students learn about other cultures through the use of the Internet, but on a more personal level, and while guided by a trained, observant adult. According to Noodle.com, “While this incorporates technology (one Internet-connected computer), a project like this prioritizes group participation over isolated learning.”
Guest and student speakers can also have a beneficial impact in the classroom. Presenters may choose to bring digital media, slide shows or other electronic aides, but the focus stays on the face-to-face communication of ideas and interests.
With the right lesson plan and a creative classroom approach, a skilled educator can bridge the gap between analog and digital learning with flair and imagination to create a successful, well-prepared student and a memorable school.