The latest craze in educational technology consists of digital learning platforms that promise to provide a personalized experience to match the abilities of each student. Students generally spend part of each day on a device learning basic concepts and use leftover class time to build on these skills. In theory, this sounds like the ultimate product of digital learning – math and literacy instruction that matches student needs and connects to hands-on activities that are led by a classroom teacher. However, this type of blended learning where technology use is kept separate from collaborative learning experience is not the best way to use technology in the classroom.
There are a number of flaws in this model of technology implementation:
First, this model silos technology from the fundamental classroom experiences of math and literacy instruction. Technology is most powerful when used hand in hand with traditional instruction. Creating a separate technology component of the school day weakens traditional instruction and also suggests that technology should be isolated from other forms of instruction.
Second, individual use of technology misses out on the most powerful byproducts of student tech use: student collaboration and leadership. Personalized learning may be beneficial for student learning, but there is no way for students to take a leadership role through a digital platform in the way that they might by presenting to their classmates, writing a letter to a local official, or even creating something using technology specifically for the purposes of sharing it widely.
Finally, blended learning environments that segregate technology into silos kill the fun aspect of technology that can help to engage students and keep them engaged. We want students to remember that technology is fun and exciting and not just a tool for math and English. New technologies like 3d printing and virtual reality should be incorporated into school technology programs not relegated as an afterthought.
As an alternative, one to one laptop programs encourage spontaneous and authentic uses of technology that are integrated into the school day rather than separated artificially. Rather than investing in outside platforms, school systems should focus their resources on low-cost mobile devices and professional development for students and teachers that promote collaboration and leadership.