Thursday 11 June 2015

Role of Technology in Improving Education

The role of technology in improving education – Part 1

Technology plays a positive role that touches on almost every aspect of education. It can make the development of literacy easier, improve the ability to acquire language, provide greater access to information, support learning, motivate students and enhance their self esteem.[1]

Technology has changed the way we learn. Perhaps one of the biggest ways in which it has done so is that it has shifted the emphasis from text-based learning to visual learning. Everyone now has access to a whole new range of learning resources and aids, largely due to advances in technology.

Technology is changing the ways we access and consume information

Now it’s no longer just about learning from books. Digital devices like computers, smartphones and tablets have fundamentally changed the presentation of information. Mobile apps and website like YouTube have created an ecosystem of learning resources that presents many more varied ways of accessing and digesting information. Students can use interactive apps to learn tasks or watch videos to understand topics and ideas.

It’s not only in formal education that this is happening. Social learning has also benefited from these technologies, and they have made it much easier to self-educate. Think about how we approach learning challenges in our everyday lives.

Let’s say there is a DIY project around the house that we want to tackle. Previously we would have been limited to either sourcing some sort of manual or book from a real-world bookshop, or asking someone to show us how to do it. Now, however, we have so many more options. We can watch a video on YouTube in which someone takes us step by step through the project. We can download an app like “Instructibles” which will similarly step us through it. Or we can use an online forum to get the information we need.

One of the most powerful and popular learning resources available today – made possible by video and Internet technology – is the range of TED Talks. These cover almost every topic under the sun, and allow people to access useful and interesting lecture and demonstrations at any time. It’s a virtual library of information at our fingertips.

Technology and reading comprehension

Even when it comes to something like reading comprehension, technology can help immensely.

Studies in the US[2] suggest that technology tools can significantly help students to understand reading material, especially those who struggle with this.

Technologies are available that allow students to change the way the text is presented visually. There are technologies that help students to navigate the text and move around in the document more easily.

Technology has even changed the way we read. Devices like Kindle offer incredibly useful tools, like searching. We all know what it’s like to laboriously page through a book to find a specific paragraph. Now the ability to instantly search the entire book has made the finding of information much quicker and easier.

A similar scenario exists with language acquisition, particularly the learning of a second language.

The main implementation of technology in language acquisition is computer-assisted language learning. Research shows that this type of learning allows students to work at their own pace, which lowers anxiety and increases their interest in participation, whether it be in a classroom or at home.[3]

The role of Internet technology

Digital materials allow distance barriers to be overcome. The Internet offers a vast wealth of language learning resources, be they curricula or simply exposure to the target language usage. Computer-mediated instruction can then supplement this: chat rooms, forums, instant messaging tools and VoIP tools like Skype all allow the person learning to interact with instructors in real time.

These technological advantages positively impact students’ learning experience, when used in interactive ways. The key appears to be engagement: with the tools, with the materials and with the teacher.

In our next article we will look at technology and motivation, and the impact of technology use on self esteem.

Notes and references:

1. ACT, 2004; CEO Forum, 2001; Boster et al., 2004; Mann et al., 1999; Tracy & Young, 2006; WestEd, 2002.

2. Can Technology Improve Student Comprehension?, Education Development Center 2007

3. The Use of Technology In-and-outside Second Language Classrooms: How, What, and Why?, Hiromi Noguchi, Teachers College, Columbia University Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 2

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