With the explosive dissemination of iPhone, Android and Windows smartphone and tablet devices, and the plethora of apps they run, many bemoan the way these new technologies are distracting young students, leading them to advocate for these devices to be banned or at least restricted within our schools. Rabbi Schneur Hayes, a teacher in Miami, makes the argument that, on the contrary, not only should these devices and apps be allowed in the classroom, but that they should be incorporated into the lessons – both Torah and secular – and that students should be encouraged to use them:
There are skeptics that point out the negative side of technology and computer usage in general. They fear the possible negative exposure that comes along with Internet usage and other things that can be utilized with technology. However, avoiding technology because of the possible dangers, can be analogous to avoiding using a car because of the dangers involved. Driving a car involves so many risks that parents send their children to driving school to teach them how to safely operate the vehicle, and avoid the possible dangers that can happen with its usage. It is specifically because the Internet and technology usage comes with risks, that we should be training our children to use it appropriately, and instruct them how it can be a tool to advance their positive growth. There is no better place for this “training” to happen than in the classroom, under the guidance of a trained professional.
Use the Opportunity
Our students are growing up in the 21stcentury. Their lives are connected to technology in many different ways outside of the classroom, this does not have to be perceived by parents negatively. In fact, by depriving them of positive exposure to technology in the classroom, you may be missing out on the opportunity to (a) show them all the good and positive things that can be accomplished through its usage, (b) train them to differentiate between useful and not useful information on the internet, and to train and habituate them to healthy internet usage, and (c) reap the benefits that technology offers with regards to raising academic performance, as many recent studies have shown.
App’s to Enhance the Learning
I’ve observed as an educator firsthand, how using different tools of technology has brought up the level of proficiency in reading, writing, and comprehension skills, of underachievers within a very short amount of time. What may have taken educators of the past a long time to accomplish with regard to teaching academic skills, now may be done in a much shorter time because of the vast amounts of technology applications available which give students the opportunity to master skills in a fun and enjoyable way.
There are some basic educational applications which educators should be familiar with, such ‘kahoot’ or ‘quizlet’ to name a few. These tools work miraculously getting students engaged in learning and speeds up the process of skills mastery. By simply incorporating one of these technologies into the learning process, one can transform a classroom into a fun and energetic learning environment, I have had classes wherein the students did not want the class to endbecause they were having so much fun learning. At first, I too questioned the effectiveness of using these technologies, but I’ve seen firsthand that they have a positive effect. In fact, in one class Chumash class where the average was 55%, the average grade improved dramatically to 90% after using these two educational applications for just four weeks.
I had an experience wherein two students were having trouble paying attention in class. They seemed to be preoccupied with something other than the lesson. I began to notice that they were discussing a great deal with each other about coding. They were passionate about coding and it was getting in the way of their studies.
“chinuch l’nar al pi darko” (Mishlei 22:6)
I recognized that this was a learning opportunity to be had. I approached the students and asked them if they would be willing to develop an app for the class that would help the students access the classroom material and interact with each other and the teacher. In order to develop the app, they would need to go through the lessons to appropriately transfer them to the appropriate format . At first, the students were shocked. They could not believe that their hobby and passion could be combined with Torah learning. They were also surprised that they were being given an opportunity to use their talents and passion in the classroom. In the end, they agreed and developed an amazing app which helped the learning process in the class. This story got small publicity. It eventually caught the attention of Verizon magazine who chose to feature it. (See Link.)
The impact of incorporating technology into Torah lessons in the classroom is huge.The students learn firsthand what an amazing tool it can be for their lifetime of learning and the advancement of their connection with Hashem. As far as computers being a distraction to students are concerned, students have and probably always will find things to do when they are not engaged. If not a computer then something else. I remember the days of passing notes, writing on my desk, or getting distracted by an eraser in my desk. When done right, incorporating technology into classrooms will raise the level of student engagement and classroom participation.