Education used to be all about hitting the books. Now, with huge advances in technology, education is also about Google searches, PowerPoint presentations, and YouTube clips. There are certain websites and forms of technology that are regarded as having no place in education because they breed lazy, distracted, or ill-informed students. However, this technology with a bad rap can still benefit students if used in the right way.
Mobile devices are often written off as a distraction by educators, and those teachers have a good point. The capabilities of a smartphone, such as text messaging and an admittedly awesome series of Angry Birds games, will pull a student’s focus away from what’s going on in class.
However, smartphones have plenty of features that will benefit students. Most come standard with a calendar and notepad so students can keep track of their assignments and important information. Buy some apps, and that phone can do just about anything. The free Merriam-Webster app turns a phone into a dictionary and thesaurus. The Quizlet app allows students to create their own flashcards and share them with other classmates online. Many schools are offering their own mobile apps, some that allow students to work on their online classes.
For the last several years, there have been allegations that Google is making us stupid. Some accuse the search engine of making us accustomed to shorter articles and instant gratification. For education, this means students are not learning how to properly research, opting instead to plug a few keywords into Google, and they certainly aren’t reading full scholarly articles once they find them.
Although students should be delving further to get the information they want, Google can be a great start. Google Scholar narrows a search down to only scholarly papers and books so the student is looking at legitimate sources.
Google also has a series of tools that can be used for study and school projects. Within Google Drive, students can create word documents, spreadsheets, slideshows, or folders of files that can be shared with classmates. Teachers can even create a free website through Google Sites to relate information to the class.
This site is famous (or infamous) for its simple summaries of classic literature, similar to the yellow Cliffs Notes packets of yesteryear. While the SparkNotes guides are intended to be used as a study aid, they are often read in place of the actual literary work. And now that there are video SparkNotes (if the guide isn’t short enough for you), some may be wondering if any student will pick up The Scarlet Letter again.
If used in the right way, SparkNotes can be rather helpful. Students can use the guide to review what they have read, especially with difficult sections. Each guide points out themes and symbols in the text and offers a quiz on the material. The “No Fear Shakespeare” line puts the classic Shakespeare text next to a modernized version so students can grasp the meaning while still reading Shakespeare’s words.
Students who understand more through the literature guides may also learn more from subject guides. In a fashion typical of the site, SparkNotes gives simple explanations of concepts in biology, history, chemistry, economics, computer science, physics, U.S. government, and more. There are also study guides and practice tests for the SAT, ACT, GRE, and AP tests.
Wikipedia’s strength is also its kryptonite. Because this free online encyclopedia is edited by the public, there is an article for everything from the Gettysburg Address to the episodes of the TV show “Glee,” and all of the information is constantly updated. But since anyone can edit the information, the quality and authority of Wikipedia articles is questionable.
Like a Google search, Wikipedia can be a great start to students’ research. The article will at least give a good overview of the subject, and most of the articles refer to scholarly papers, books, and online articles that can be cited in research. One also should not overlook Wikipedia’s other open-source content, including Wikipedia Commons, which provides tons of free images and audio clips.
The common thread of these examples is purpose and moderation. This new technology should not replace traditional methods of study and research, but when used at the right time and for the right reasons, it can be of great benefit to students—not a mere distraction.
Veronica Mason has worked as an academic adviser since graduating from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in education. She enjoys learning about innovations in education, particularly online classes.