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January 31, 2012

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How much technology is enough?

TECHNOLOGY in the classroom is this generation's miracle worker: It will, we are told, make students learn faster, be smarter and more competitive in the global marketplace. Computers and e-readers do bring myriad benefits to learning, but how much technology is enough?

Rob Watson, who oversees curriculum matters at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS Shanghai), believes there is a place in the classroom for both technology and traditional learning.

"At YCIS, we continually discuss how much technology is enough," says Watson. "Technology is woven into YCIS's curriculum to maximize learning - it does not dominate class time."

Literacy development is one area where technology has truly transformed the learning process. Young children can intuitively navigate e-readers and benefit fully from reading on a screen: E-readers can switch font size, provide margins for note-taking and compress a whole library into one machine. At schools like YCIS Shanghai where the early childhood education ethos is to allow children's interest in books to lead their literacy development, e-readers can be a motivational tool.

Still, YCIS Shanghai's Early Childhood Education Coordinator Sarah Zarzo says that she and the teachers make sure students find relevance in the "hard copy" world. During a recent study topic on restaurants, for example, the children saw the need to write menus for their "customers." "Presenting children with practical, real-life situations that make print seem important and valued encourages children to want to interact with it," she says.

There is a similar balance found in music classes, says Matthias Peitsch, a Music teacher at YCIS Shanghai. "Technology has changed the teaching of music: the ability to create music is so much more accessible now. But, we have to remember that technology is just a tool for capturing what starts with the individual's voice."

Christopher Westcott, an Information and Communication Technology teacher at YCIS Shanghai, agrees that technology is a useful tool, and is enthusiastic about how it is used.

"At the Pudong campus, we are using technology to connect the school community, so learning does not end when the school bell rings."

A recent study on university students and classroom technology by the EduCause Center for Applied Research in Minnesota found that despite being the "Net Generation," these students cited convenience as technology's main benefit. One student quoted in the study said, "Information technology is just a tool. Like all tools, if used properly it can be an asset. If it is used improperly, it can become an obstacle … never is it a panacea."

"Technology is the application of science for the purposes of overcoming life's challenges," says Westcott. "But there can be technology overload. Providing an environment at YCIS where technology is used meaningfully is in the best interest of our students and theirfuture endeavors."


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