Michael Lerner

Tuesday - Sep 21, 2010

BlackboardAs texting and friending and web browsing have entered the classroom, the question remains as to whether digital technology has improved education. Technology in the classroom is nothing new, but until recently, most didn’t require batteries.

One of the first learning aids was the horn book, paper printed with the alphabet pasted on a wooden paddle, used by students in Europe and colonial America in the 17th century.

Two hundred years later, the magic lantern entered the classroom. A forerunner of the slide projector, it cast hand-drawn images on to a screen. But the technology that has withstood the test of time–still a fixture in most schools–is the chalkboard.

The New York Times has an interactive timeline that chronicles these learning machines, ending with the iPad, a device that echoes the horn book and may replace textbooks. But will it make kids smarter and maybe more importantly, will it help them think outside the box?

While digital life has its benefits, according to technologist Jaron Lanier, it falls short, “Roughly speaking, there are two ways to use computers in the classroom. You can have them measure and represent the students and the teachers, or you can have the class build a virtual spaceship. Right now the first way is ubiquitous, but the virtual spaceships are being built only by tenacious oddballs in unusual circumstances. More spaceships, please.”

With digital technology inextricably integrated into modern life, it’s not surprising to find it in classroom around the world. While some educators argue that it’s a distraction, most agree that computers are a powerful learning tool. What do you think?