Is technology negatively impacting the way we learn?

Rachel Hay, Senior Writer

Whether you’ve found yourself stuck on YouTube, clicking on the 400th cat video you’ve watched in the span of one Saturday afternoon, or whether your quest to obtain information for your research paper has turned into checking your Instagram feed, we’re all acutely aware of what a time suck technology can be. But to what extent does school encourage student dependence on the Internet?

It seems that as much as technology has become a part of the global workforce and a source of entertainment for people, it has also become an integral part of our education system, especially when it comes to completing homework assignments. High school foreign language students are all familiar with sites such as Vista Higher Learning and My Language Labs, where teachers often assign online homework and activities. Courses such as Biology, which typically have a high percentage of underclassmen students, often assign online scavenger hunt worksheets, which require Internet access to reach the site. More often than not, assignments for English class must be typed. Students in Advanced Placement and Honors classes often form large groups on Facebook to confirm test dates or to organize study groups.

Having access to a reliable Internet connection seems to be a perquisite for doing well in school. According to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, 93% of undergraduate students owned a laptop, compared to just 64% of nonstudent young adults who said they had a laptop (ages 18-24).

In my opinion, whether or not the educational playing field has been made uneven by technology is an issue that should be at the forefront of discussion with regard to the use of technology in school. Students who have access to computers and the Internet have the advantages of having the opportunity to turn their online assignments in on time, to research topics at their leisure, and to communicate with their teachers and peers about schoolwork. Students without these advantages must either accept a poor grade (at least in the homework category) or go to the library to work on a computer—and unlike a library at a university, high school libraries are often closed within a few hours after the end of the school day.

For most students, another issue that increases exponentially with a greater dependence on the Internet as an aid to completing schoolwork is that of student accountability when it comes to time management. The Internet can be a powerful mode of procrastination—while adolescents are likely to use social media and other forms of technology regardless of whether or not homework demands it, it seems like studying should be a time to shut down Spotify and the computer, rather than powering them up.

I don’t believe that the Internet has been an all-bad thing for the way we learn. Technology has allowed us to reach frontiers that would have not been possible without the Internet or modern conveniences of the like, and students need to learn the value of personal responsibility—whether that means better utilizing the way they spend their time online, or talking to teachers about alternative assignments they can do in lieu of homework that requires Internet access. But once in a while, it’s nice to pick up a pen and piece of paper.