The Digital Generation: How Technology has Impacted Student Life

It’s now an archaic image. One lonely computer set at the back of the classroom, equipped with Netscape Navigator and Compton’s Encyclopedia. The computer monitor, off-beige in colour, was roughly one foot in depth and weighed approximately 40 pounds. Access to this new classroom technology was, in most schools, given as a reward for good behavior. This was the role of the computer in the classroom in the early 1990s­—not as a functional educational tool, but as a break from class. In fact, at the time, only 20-30 million people worldwide actually owned computers or had access to the internet. Today, there are billions who have access, with the internet being readily available in most of our pockets. Ultimately, digital devices have made their way into the classroom and are an integral part of our day-to-day. 

Twenty years is not a long time when considering the entire chronicle of the history of technology in education. However, in just two decades, technology has brought vast improvements into the classroom, assisting in the way lessons are taught, how information is stored and how students are able to collaborate. There is an ever-evolving relationship between technology and culture, and with the advent of the internet, emails and even laptop integration in schools and workplaces, we have the ability to communicate with ease and speed. At Ridley, the influence of technology has greatly impacted the role of the teacher, who is committed to evolve and grow with each new technological advance.  

We are now more connected, have more information and have even greater technological advances in the classroom than ever before. 

Connection:

We have entered an era where we are connected to everyone around us through the click of a button and at top speed. Through a simple email or text, we are linked with someone on the other side of the world. Email is used to connect students with teachers, teachers with parents and parents with the school community. Mr. Geoff Park ’80 (Department of Social Sciences) remarked on the advantages of this connection: the ease to send and receive work, to remind people about any changes taking place, to arrange to meet students for tutorials, and to send useful links, to name a few. 

Students, especially boarders, can easily stay in touch with their families near or far—a vast difference between the communiqué of 20 years ago. “When I started in 1990”, recalls Ms. Karen Oude-Reimerink (Department of Science), “most boarding students communicated with their parents once a week via a pay phone in residence. Advisors communicated once every six weeks or so (with effort grades) via a phone call. Individual teachers rarely communicated directly with parents – all communication was through the Head of House or the Advisor.”

Although we are more connected than ever before, the drawback is the risk of feeling disconnected and isolated. The fast pace of life that has taken hold of society can sometimes prove to be more of a hinderance than a freeing agent. With the convenience of digital interaction through social media and email, traditional methods of keeping in touch are falling by the wayside, thus creating a dichotomy between the convenience of digital connectivity and the closeness of our relationships. 

Ridley is cognizant of this challenge and has responded to it by implementing a number of measures to promote interpersonal communication. Devices are not permitted in the Great Hall in an attempt to encourage social interaction during meal times, students participate in daily physical activity and there are ongoing organized events and activities in classrooms and the Houses, which allow for students to nurture their social and emotional skills. 

Regardless of the negative effects of online connection, we live in a digital world and the use of technology has become an essential life skill. 

Access to Information:

With the internet being omnipresent in the classroom, there is a difference in the way students research and learn. According to Mr. Chris Gordon (Department of Classical and International Languages), “the world is literally at your fingertips; we can easily learn about the world around us and are able to collate information that, even 20 years ago, would have been much more difficult to find.” 

By having access to a vast trove of information, we obtain a richer understanding of the subjects at hand and students are granted the opportunity to examine a wider variety of perspectives on any given topic. Mr. Geoff Park ’80 supports this view, saying “we can find articles about any issues or topics from around the world. When I used to teach geopolitics and discuss Israel, I could access The Jerusalem Post and Al Jazeera, and news sources of different biases from around the world. It enabled a broader perspective.” 

“Technology allows the classroom walls to extend far beyond the confines of a physical space.” – Mr. Chris Gordon. 

The variety in which materials can be shared is useful in relaying specialized information “The access to online videos and simulations is wonderful in clarifying scientific concepts,” says Ms. Karen Oude-Reimerink. This helps to inform and assist students in forming their own unique perspectives. 

Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, has weighed in on the impact technology is having in the classroom and emphasizes it’s value. “We’ve moved from 100 percent of learning materials coming from an out-of-date textbook, to interactive materials and students in remote locations having access to high-quality resources,” Culatta notes. “Technology has enabled learners to explore and learn on their own in ways that were harder to do when the resources all had to come from the teacher. It’s very powerful.”

The challenge that comes into play is evaluating if the information at hand is actually a credible source. How can a student tell if content is written by a competent authority? Mr. Gordon notes, “the ability to analyze and evaluate the source of information is now so much more important, and this can be a struggle.” Students need to learn how to be thoughtful consumers of digital content and discriminate the reliability and accuracy of this. 

This has been one of the new research skills stemming from our digital world. Students are now taught what to look for during the research phase of a project and are educated on both primary and secondary types of research. Through the McLaughlin Resource Centre and the Matthews Library, students have access to countless resources and can connect to the infinite information found on the web. Through required citing, faculty members are able to confirm that students are searching for evidence in the right place and getting the most out of their online practices. 

Technology:

Gone are the days of the computer lab or the one-computer classroom. The growth of technology in schools has influenced the way teachers must approach their lesson plans.

“Information technology is a great asset to education, but it is equally important that the teacher relays not only curricular content, but also demonstrates how to best navigate their systems, so that students will be more successful with the course at hand,” says Mr. Gordon. 

Mac Integration at Ridley brought about the most significant change in how students absorb the topics at hand, the way they conduct their educational activities and the way they communicate with one another. The Mac Integration Programme began at Ridley in 1998, where all faculty received school-owned laptops. Upper School students followed shortly after, with the laptop rollout beginning in September 1999. Over the years, classrooms went from having dial-up and Ethernet to wireless connections.  

“Mac Integration and the use of smart projectors has enabled us to create bespoke lessons and class note sets for each course and to provide students with a collection of materials for their learning support that is much more robust than ever before,” exclaims Ms. Rachael Scott (Department of Mathematics).

Fifteen years ago, classrooms were first outfitted with Smartboards — the go-to technology for interactive learning. Today, all classrooms are housed with Epson Smart Projectors that eliminate the need for a dedicated white board. Currently, Ridley is in the midst of adding Apple TV’s to all classrooms, allowing teachers and students a seamless way to collaboratively share and display information from their laptops without the need for cables.

Another great advance in technology and communication has been the implementation of TigerNet. First introduced in 2005, TigerNet is Ridley’s student information system that gives teachers the ability to record grades and add comments, share course assignments, tests and class notes, assign deadlines, receive assignments through a Dropbox feature and much more. Since the inception of TigerNet, the sharing and transparency of information across all roles have been game-changing. 

With the implementation of new technology, there is always the possibility for some challenges to come into play. One of the biggest challenges at hand is the opportunity for distraction. “Even the most dynamic lesson is hard pressed to compete with an online conversation with a friend, a game, a movie etc. and while teachers try to stay on top of that, if you need your laptop for that lesson, and you can’t see all the screens at once, it is impossible to prevent misuse” says Mr. Park. There have always been avenues for distraction throughout the history of teaching, the laptop is just another vehicle for this. Adaptability, innovation and an open mind is key to successfully integrating technology into the classroom and maintaining a strong student-teacher relationship.

“My teaching continues to grow and change, as does that of my colleagues,” says Ms. Scott. “We are constantly learning different ways of introducing material to students and ways of helping the students to develop learning skills that will enable them to learn anything of interest to them in the future. This is the exciting change.”

Technology is not meant to replace the teacher but rather, creates a more flexible learning environment that breeds innovation and enriches the classroom, resulting in a more collaborative learning milieu. Today’s students have never experienced a world without the infusion of technology. By embracing this new digital landscape, we are preparing students for the globally-connected world of tomorrow.

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