YourTurn winners: What are the effects of classroom technologies?

Yee Leng Yang, first place
Sophie Dwyer, second place
Nathaniel Larson, third place
Maria Lewis, honorable mention
We have been blessed with wonderful technology, use it wisely.

Editor’s note: Many schools are investing more money in classroom technology — such as iPads, SMART Boards and laptops — because they think it will help students to learn better. However, studies have not been able to clearly prove a link between technology and better academic performance.

We asked students to tell us, based on actual experiences, how much technology has helped in classroom learning … or not. We received thoughtful responses — from a record number of 209 — on the assets and pitfalls technology has brought to students’ lives.

1ST PLACE ($100 prize)

Yee Leng Yang
Washington Technology Magnet School

Judges’ notes: Yee Leng writes with a unique perspective as a recent immigrant from Thailand. Having been restricted from technology for most of his early life, his outlook is very different from a student who was born in America. Also appreciated is the evident research that accompanied the writing of his essay.

Growing up in a small refugee camp in Thailand, there were no possible ways that I could ever know anything about technology. Restrictions were all around us. For example, in order to get out of the camp legally, we had to do paper work. A place where I could really call home was inside the camp. Outside of it, it was a strange land. A strange land that I dreaded to enter and explore, because if someone caught you, there would be consequences. So as a minority, we had to depend on each other for protection.

My family immigrated to the United States on October 30, 2005. Leaving home was not easy, but we were optimistic about the migration. We had always heard that America was a land of freedom, food, money, dreams and opportunities. During our early settlement, I could sense that my family had finally come to a great place.

Early on, I encountered many things that define America, but the most extraordinary thing that caught my attention the most was a computer. I was so fascinated with this device. It was then that I realized technology is one of the reasons why America is so great. It has changed my life since then.

Nowadays, technology has helped me even more with many modifications over the last few years. More importantly, with the technology in my school, I think it has taken me a step further whether in my life or schoolwork. In my classroom, there are SMART boards, computers, calculators, etc. This technology has become part of my daily life.

To begin with, I’m a visual learner and I learn better by seeing images and different colors. A study has shown that 65 percent of the population are visual learners and 90 percent of information that goes to the brain is visual. Hence, I think SMART boards are the best thing that every classroom could possibly have.

There are also computers in my classroom. I can’t miss out on this one. This technology has helped me a lot. Thanks to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for their efforts. I have used computers to learn typing, do research, for entertainment, to email teachers and friends. I really enjoy typing. I often play games to improve my typing skills, because if I type fast, I will finish my work faster.

Last but not least, calculators are just as important as the other devices. What I like about them is that they can show graphs. That makes it a lot easier for me to learn.

In conclusion, these technologies have truly improved our lives. So when asked should schools invest in more classroom technology, I have no doubt in answering “DEFINITELY YES.”

2ND PLACE ($50 prize)

Sophie Dwyer
Southwest High School

Judges’ notes: Sophie’s essay explains the dichotomy between using technology for entertainment and educational purposes. While technology can often become a distraction, Sophie reminds us that we each have the personal power to use it in ways that will benefit us in the ways we so choose.

Everything has its ups and downs – technology is no exception. Technology has made so many things easier including writing, spelling, mathematics, and research. I personally believe the question of how technology impacts learning depends on how you choose to use it. If you choose to waste your time on websites such as Facebook and Twitter, of course there will be no improvement in your knowledge. Conversely, it can be an excellent resource to help better your education.

As a student in modern day America, we have wonderful equipment at our disposal to help us improve our minds. Teachers have SMART boards to show PowerPoints and demonstrate math problems on. We have nice computers on which to type reports and do research. Many people have smart phones and iPods to text, play games, listen to music, and use social networking sites. That is where I believe technology becomes a problem. This provides a distraction for students that takes away from their learning. I’ve seen students slip and not do their work because they’d rather Tweet than do math. It happens to me; sometimes if I get too discouraged, I’ll goof around on my phone instead of sitting down and trying to solve the problem.

For me, technology has undoubtedly helped me learn. Teachers use their SMART boards to show colorful, informative PowerPoints while lecturing to keep students engaged. Heck, without the PowerPoints, I’d probably be bored senseless! With computers at my disposal, I have access to resources that I would have never had if I had just been paging through books. I am able to accomplish more work faster because of typing and because of how easy it is to do research for large projects. One delightful plus of technology is the online textbooks. I’m taking more and harder classes this year, and it is an absolute pain to lug textbooks back and forth. Instead of having my backpack weigh fifty pounds, I can simply go online and sign into the textbook’s website and even get videos and more examples than in the physical textbook. Technology has been indisputably helpful to me.

Whether or not technology is a valuable learning tool really comes down to how you choose to use it. If you get distracted by funny photos or the latest relationship update, doing projects may mostly be updating your status. But if you choose to use it as the incredible research tool that it is, it will make learning much more enjoyable and easier. We have been blessed with wonderful technology, use it wisely.

3RD PLACE ($30 prize)

Nathaniel Larson
Southwest High School

Judges’ notes: Nathaniel shows us a snapshot in his educational career that brings to light the importance of educating educators on how to best use technology as an effective teaching tool. He ends with a profound statement about the power of humans over machinery.

As anyone can attest to, our lives are affected immensely by technology. But people often misuse these ever-complicated gadgets and fewer people understand how their technology works. Educators want to tap into these innovations, which continue to get smarter and faster, but they fall short. Ever since my education started and the push for technology in the classroom picked up pace, my learning has not been helped, but sometimes even hindered by technology.

The first school I attended was invested in bringing technology into education; our computers were replaced twice over the course of my years there. Every teacher received a SMART board. But as much as these tools were fun and interesting, the way they were used didn’t help me. Technology breaks, and must be fixed by someone. Technology costs money—lots of it—to replace every few years. Most importantly, technology in the classroom often detracts from the true focus: learning. Technology can be very useful, but it needs to be incorporated into learning, rather than replacing it.

I once had a teacher who did not do well incorporating technology into his curriculum; we will call him Mr. S. That year we had a major history project as the centerpiece of our learning. It was many months long, so it took up a lot of our time. Multiple days a week we would go to the computer lab to conduct our research, but either students didn’t care or were too confused about how to conduct deep research on the Internet. We wasted many hours this way. It made the use of technology increase and therefore administrators assumed that it was beneficial for our learning, while the truth was quite to the contrary. Mr. S had one constantly unused computer provided to his classroom, and taught with a chronically finicky and underutilized SMART board. When time came around for the presentation of our projects, many were unprepared. From the bibliographies to the display boards one could tell it was not even a month long project. Mr. S left the following year.

Make no mistake, it was not just the use (or misuse) of technology that made that year’s learning substandard. His methods were slow and he couldn’t always control the class. But this brings up an important point: the money and resources used to buy and maintain a slew of technology for the school could have been used to pay for better teachers or professional development. Rather than another computer, a better method of teaching would have helped me learn.

The power of technology is one that any educator wants to bring into the classroom. But this must be done in an effective fashion. Teachers need to know how to use it in order to bring its benefits to students. The power of technology is great, but it cannot replace the power of good teaching. So let us consider before we leap headfirst into a technology craze. I want good teachers, not computers, to teach me about the world.


Maria Lewis
Indus School

Judges’ notes: We couldn’t leave out the story of a girl from a small Minnesota town who is often faced with technological detriments. Maria explains the negative impact technology has played in her learning and why she oftentimes gravitates toward the old-fashioned tools.

The use of technology is an ever increasing and evolving project. Some schools have more opportunities to access these innovations than others. At my K-12 school in rural northern Minnesota, students don’t have a wide range of technological advancements available for use. Still, the role of technology is evident within my school.

Over the past few years, my school has received reprogrammed and updated computers. Personally, I don’t think this has benefited the students. These updates have resulted in more time spent fixing the computer than using it. Often, it can take up to twenty minutes to log on to a computer. Class time is wasted on trying to fix technology that is supposed to work.

On top of this, privacy and protection acts have put restrictions on the websites that students can access. Most of the websites I have tried to use have been blocked because the school labels them as “forums” or “blogs”. Even sources like Wikipedia have been blocked for student use. These websites are classified as inappropriate for educational purposes.

Oftentimes, I feel as though the use of videos and DVDs in school is a way of relieving a teacher of their work. Whenever educational videos are played, I have a hard time retaining the information. Even though I am a visual learner, videos don’t provide the instruction of teachers. I need repetition to grasp concepts. Usually, videos are only shown once. It is hard to retain information that you only see once. Plus, videos move quickly through their information and it is difficult to comprehend everything.

Technology has been an inconvenience for me. In most cases, I end up having more problems when I use technology than if I work on a project without it. I have seen how unreliable technology can be. Often, the computer networks at my school have failed to work. We have had to delay projects because we can’t access our documents on the computers. With the increase in dependence on technology, I see more time spent dealing with delays than actually working.

It is a hassle to finish homework when you have to go back and forth between school and home technology. It is time consuming to transfer documents from one computer to another. I don’t always have a jump drive with me. I have tried using Google Documents, but there always seems to be an error with the website when I use it at school. At this point, it seems easier to start my projects over. That way I can actually get work done instead of wasting time trying to make technology work.

Overall, technology has been a hindrance to my learning. Technology is supposed to make things efficient. Very rarely have I saved time by using technology. There is lots of information available with technology. Unfortunately, my experience hasn’t provided me with that information. Technology is not useless. It is valuable when it functions properly. I, however, would rather stick to paper, pencil and encyclopedias.