Technology in Education: Too Much or Not Enough?

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on November 11, 2013.

My first interaction with a computer was in my second grade public school classroom. Each day we had a set rotation where students either spent the afternoon reading a book, writing in a journal, or playing in the “computer lab.” The latter rotation section was a favorite because a handful of us were able to, nay required to, play games on this device most of us probably did not have access to outside the classroom. I cannot recall the specific programs available on the computers, but remember thinking we were so lucky to not have to do “school stuff” for a couple hours like everyone else.

That was 1996, fast-forward 17 years and think of how far technology has advanced! Schools are no longer lucky just to have a couple green screen computers, yet some have a whole room of flat screen computers, tablets in the classroom, or personal laptops for every student. Even libraries have jumped on board by offering access to public computers, free wi-fi and makerspaces. But how has this influx of technology changed how our youth learn? Has technology become a great addition or a mere distraction in an education setting?

students today

“Students Today” via ransomtech, flickr CC

Currently I volunteer at an elementary school library and with a teen makerspace where technology is a common connection. The majority of my time at both locations is spent helping students with something as simple as logging into a computer to more complex activities like using the UP! 3D printer. While I always leave each site even more energized about working with youth, I have to wonder if increasing technology in the classroom is actually increasing learning opportunities. In the end my answer is always the same, “Definitely yes… if done correctly.”

But kids these days are glued to all the new technology, why should we advocate for more time spent in front of the computer screen?

Despite the rise of the term “digital native” describing the generation born with a tablet in hand, not all children and teens are technology experts. We still have to consider the digital divide created by various factors such as race, class and access issues. Even in the 21st century the United States has about 25% of households without computers and 29% are without internet access in 2011 according to a recent census report. When looking at race, about 83% of White non-Hispanic households reported home internet use versus only 57% of Black and 58% of Hispanic households.

According to a recent study on youths’ internet activity worldwide, “only 30 percent of the world’s youth population between the ages of 15 and 24 years old has been active online for at least five years.” Yet if you focus on developed nations, more than 90% of youth in each country are considered digital natives. This variance is due to factors similar to those creating the digital divide, but in the case of Malaysia the active use of technology in schools led to the country ranking fourth with 75% of 15-to-24-year-olds labeled as digital natives.

As library professionals and education advocators, how should we approach technology in an education setting without making it another distraction? How can we incorporate an active use of technology in schools and libraries to meet learning goals and bridge this digital divide?

I may not have definite answers to these questions, but I do see the fine line between putting a computer in front of a child and actually teaching someone how to use it. Below is a list of recommended resources to explore these questions and find answers that may be beneficial to future librarians working with youth and technology:

  1. Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century: Kuhlthau’s book provides vital tools and information for educators to incorporate inquiry-guided learning and technology in the 21st century classroom.
  2. How to Integrate Technology: It is not just about getting computers in the classroom, but effectively utilizing these tools to enhance student learning.
  3. TeachThought: Introducing and combining learning trends such as Common Core, mobile learning, tablets and applications. One recent article shared 24 Unique Maker Education Resources for Teaching & Learning.
  4. Etoys: A free software program created to motivate children to become active learners while introducing scripting and programming skills in a fun way. (The main project we are working on at the elementary school revolves around integrating Etoys into the regular curriculum.)
  5. Teen Tech Week: YALSA sponsors an annual Teen Tech Week, which encourages libraries to showcase non-print resources and services available for teens. The next TTW will be March 9-15, 2014.
  6. A Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: A small collection of resources for those thinking about starting a makerspace in their library.

What other resources or ideas can help librarians effectively utilize technology for children and teens? Or is technology already overused in education and library settings?

21 replies

    • Haha sorry for that! But that is really cool. We got our first home computer with internet shortly after, but for some reason it still surprises me to see computers sneaking their way into elementary education.


      • We didn’t have home internet access until after I went to college, but we had computers throughout elementary school. I remember most fondly out programming lessons in 5th grade. We learned BASIC, but even more fun, we learned LOGO. I remember none of the content, but I think it was helpful learning programming languages so young, as well as LOGO helping with geometry.


        • I have very vague memories of playing different computer games in this class, but unfortunately have no idea what they were. Maybe we really were learning programming without knowing? That’s the only class I explicitly remember having “computer time” outside of keyboarding classes.


          • Sounds like dcdotnerd and I are about the same age, my first taste of internet in the home was a dial-up AOL connection with 500,000 free hours. 🙂 I remember the Apple II in the library in Jr.High, and worked with Macs a lot in my Vis-Com class for design and printing, but never was it in the classroom like it is today. I am blown away that my 1st grade son uses a PC almost daily, and participates in class with a Smart board, just blows me away… enough that when I had the opportunity to join an EdTech company i jumped on it. 🙂


            • Oh don’t worry, my first home computer was a dial-up and I jumped for joy every time we got another AOL free trial in the mail 🙂 We didn’t get a smartboard in school until my junior or senior year our school librarian bought one to wheel around. Now I see them in every classroom (except not on campus…) and they are so fun!


  1. Love this, Casey! I think teachers and librarians also need to consider the concept of media literacy – not only what resources can we provide to students so that they may learn, but also how can we teach students to think critically about the wealth of information available to students via technology and how to evaluate these resources 🙂


    • Very true Paige! I am actually taking a Media Literacy for Youth class next semester, so maybe I can touch more on that later as well 🙂


  2. I am a 100% supporter that the tech in the classroom is only as good as the teacher standing at the front of the class. If teachnology could be a new word, it should be. The best EdTech you can put in a classroom is a human that understands technology management and can (and will) use the data they receive.


    • “Teachnology” definitely stealing that word! The biggest issue I have seen this semester in implementing tech in the classroom is when the teacher is hesitant about their own tech skills, knowledge, ability, etc. I just listened to a webinar about ebooks in education yesterday and the most successful programs seemed to be those that introduced the new ebook system to the teachers/school board first and let them try it out before handing it over to the kids. That is what makes our jobs even more important, not only are we learning about technology but we also need to teach others and give them the confidence to keep passing on the knowledge!


  3. Technology in the classroom is not about too much or not enough. Technology is another tool to be used just as much in impact as a textbook. Students must be inspired and empowered to want to use the devices to learn. My son has been developing “Architect” skills by playing MindCraft simply because it interests him. Technology can help to inspire and empower, but the most important piece of the classroom we are all forgetting about is the Teachers abilities to relate.


    • What a great response because it really is a balance of how we use the technology. I have recently been introduced to Minecraft through the makerspace I volunteer at and am slowly starting to understand the game’s concepts (I have never been a video/computer game person, so this doesn’t come naturally). Our plan is to get more kids “creating” in the game, but they have done so much already without our help – which is always amazing! Again another great example where technology and video games don’t have to be the enemy.


      • Absolutely, technology is not the enemy, and never has been. It has been the way we think that has always been the obstacle. The classroom itself has to be rethought. We have to provide some structure of the day, but then allow students the freedom to expand and explore when they show the responsibility to do so. Many teachers will struggle with this concept as many learned and teach this way. They must let go of the thought that they need to be the expert in subject matter. They will become more of facilitators. Many have issues because they refuse to humanize themselves and allow the students to teach them a thing or two about technology and its uses. Ironic because building relationships is the best way to inspire kids, and showing them your vulnerable and they can inspire you is a great way to reach them!


  4. Reblogged this on PIDP…Here We Go! and commented:
    I found this article interesting and at the end of reading it, thought to myself, we can teach students to use technology, but I agree with one of the comments on the article saying that we also need to teach students how to think critically about what type of technology to use and when and where to use it.
    I start to feel a bit overwhelmed when asked to use a lot of different types of technology or social media sites. I can only imagine what our students feel when we introduce technology along with a new idea or lesson.


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