Where technology in the classroom is concerned, we are at an important juncture.  Today’s students inhabit a stimulating, media-rich culture, and have more access to information than ever before.  Yet some educators and parents cling to the belief that technology in the classroom is largely a distraction.

If used correctly, technology in the classroom can be an opportunity, a catalyst to encourage reading, writing, critical thinking and lifelong learning — vital to our students’ development as individuals and to the advancement of society as a whole.

Thousands of years of great ideas from diverse cultures around the world fill the books in our libraries and on our personal bookshelves.  This knowledge is the core of civilization, the source code for who we have become.  Sadly, that precious knowledge is in real danger of being lost for future generations.  This isn’t because the youth of today are less interested in these great ideas, but rather our means of communicating those important concepts is dated and less relevant to students.  This is not the 19thCentury, yet we teach as though it is.

The good news is that we have the power to hold this generation’s attention.  That power resides in the palm of our hands.  Educators can indeed leverage student’s interest in technology and social interaction to inspire them to read, write, think critically and collaborate.

Making Reading a Priority in a Fast-Paced World

My experience as a single father, raising two children alone through middle and high school, and as a teacher at the college level, has convinced me that kids are certainly interested in learning about those big ideas that have shaped our world.

But the world for today’s teens is fast-paced, a continual flow of information.   Students are low on patience, with so much digital information at their fingertips collected in snippets and sound bytes.  It is a challenge to capture and hold their attention.  What they do have a passion for is peer interaction. In fact, kids have a seemingly insatiable desire to communicate with others and express their opinions.

So how can we leverage the energy and passion today’s youth have for technology to motivate them to read, accumulate knowledge, and refine the expression of their ideas?

The fact is that books have gone digital and there’s no going back.  We should view this seminal shift as an opportunity in education, not lament the loss of leather-bound books.  Technology in the classroom doesn’t signal the end of books, only the transference of the medium to electronic and digital modes, providing ubiquitous, convenient access to even more texts.

When a student reads text on a tablet or any device, information is simply being accessed in a new way – a way that is meaningful to students.  The power of the author’s words are not diminished by the means of delivery.  Quite the opposite: they are seen as more relevant to a student’s daily life experience.

Indeed, tech gadgets can foster the kind of interaction among students that is so essential to learning.  Rick Fabbro, a senior district supervisor in the Surrey School District in British Columbia, reports that his students are more involved when they get their hands on (and their minds around) quality technology in the classroom.

“How do we teach students to approach life with courage, confidence and optimism and develop a mental flexibility that they will need to be successful?” Fabbro poses. “The answer lies within our ability to be creative and respectful in how we teach.  In our schools, we’ve found that technology in the classroom helps us reach students in new and exciting ways.”

Using Technology in the Classroom to Reach Today’s Kids

Essential to effective communication is the need for an authentic audience.  We all write better when we know that our peers will read what we are communicating.  And timely response to what we write is also critical, whether from across the classroom or the globe.

Mobile devices — used by students in their daily lives to text, post, tweet and blog — can actually empower kids to read more, research topics and formulate informed opinions on everything from classic books to history to current events.

CNN recently reported that Los Angeles teacher Enrique Legaspi added social media to his Hollenbeck Middle School classroom with excellent results. While attending a Twitter conference, Legaspi, a tech enthusiast himself, had an epiphany: why not incorporate this technology in the classroom?

Rather than barring social media at the door, Legaspi established a BYOT (bring your own technology) policy for his 8th grade history students, encouraging them to get connected.  Now when he teaches lessons, he incorporates Twitter whenever possible.  He projects tweets in real time on a screen, so he can monitor the conversation, see who is participating, and what each is sharing.

“I have many students who do not participate in my classes or share what’s on their minds, so Twitter became that vehicle,” Legaspi says.

As Enrique’s experience demonstrates, we can get more kids reading and thinking at deeper levels if we are open to leveraging all the tools at our disposal.

Blending Traditional Education and New Technology in the Classroom

We all know that the human-to-human connection is at the very heart of academic and professional success.  Technology in the classroom is a dynamic link in that connection, a tool that facilitates interactivity.  By blending the tenets of traditional educational principles with mobile and social platforms, we will ensure that kids continue to read and create the fresh ideas.

In the early centuries of civilization, Rome outlawed theater because it was believed to be frivolous, distracting citizens from productive endeavors.  In today’s modern society we need to shift our outmoded thinking so we fully understand what technology in the classroom can do for us – especially our kids – and then find out how we can best leverage it.

Teachers who use social media report that their students are engaged and connected in the truest meaning of the word. We need to capture that excitement and expand the traditional model of learning to include the smart use of technology in the classroom — and the social interaction that it can facilitate.

Technology in the classroom can provide us with a means to connect students to knowledge that is essential for the betterment of our culture and future generations.

By blending traditional educational principles with appropriate technology in the classroom, we will help kids learn to think critically and to embrace reading and writing.  In doing so, we will ensure that the great ideas of the past will inform the fresh ideas of the future.

technology in the classroomAbout Robert Romano

Robert Romano is the founder and CEO of BookheadEd which publishes StudySync, an innovative, web-based learning tool that connects students to the great ideas of mankind and encourages reading, writing, collaboration and critical thinking.  BookheadEd brings together today’s top academic and creative talent to produce effective educational technology.  A highly successful entrepreneur, Romano developed the award-winning EdVantage Software with renowned educator James Moffet, which was sold to Riverdeep Interactive in 2001.  Romano believes that the future of our educational system rests on using the most advanced technology in the classroom.