SINN: Technology: A force for learning, a force for life

Nov 27, 2012


The holiday season is upon us, even in the absence of much snow or cold weather. The election is over, and already new divisions have arisen to take the place of political disagreement.

It is now consumer season as well, and the pseudo-holidays of Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next month, Americans will continue to make tough choices over bigger price tags than ever before, especially when it comes to the latest electronic gadgetry.

Choosing which new technology is the best buy is never an easy decision. Each smartphone, tablet and computer has its pros and cons, and there are millions of opinions on which latest tech options are the most revolutionary, reliable and cost-effective.

But there is more at stake than our bank accounts. The new technology we use impacts the way we communicate and obtain information for personal reasons (i.e., social networking), but it also provides us with a platform for new learning. Our toys are also tools, providing highly accessible modes of education.

As a college student, access to technology plays a major role in my success, both socially and academically; and my ability to navigate the devices at my disposal gives me a leg up in life, as well as in the classroom.

Earlier this month, I upgraded to the iPhone 5. Days after activating it and growing accustomed to its features, my phone began to take on a more than arbitrary role in my life. My iPhone wakes me up in the morning; reminds me what I have on my schedule for the day; and informs me of the weather, world news and sports updates. It keeps me connected to my friends, family, colleagues and classmates. It is a camera, the ultimate media player, a massive resource, and a literally a light in the dark.

There is little my iPhone can’t do; for those things, I have a laptop.

The laptop I am currently using is too heavy to lug to class every day. Fortunately, I have made a smart adjustment. I am still a fan of pen and paper for note-taking purposes, but last week I found myself doing in school what is still — for the most part — considered a forbidden act. I was using my iPhone to do research for a group project in my Communications 101 class. Google Scholar provided me with the research; the Facebook app put me in permanent contact with my group members over Thanksgiving break. I jotted down the assignment details, and now in my pocket are many of the tools I need to earn my next A.

In spite of its many distractions, the iPhone is a powerful resource. Like many devices, it transcends the gap between the living room and the classroom. It proves useful anytime from the least serious situations to emergencies, when it must be depended upon.

For me, technology is simplifying, organizing and radically changing my life. Considering how complex and utterly challenging the college experience is, that is a very good thing.

Not so long ago, my school day was structured into an all-day, no-nonsense agenda. I was always using technology during my years at Spring Lake Public Schools, from the original iMacs to the Acer minis. But the use of personal technology — the kind we’re most adept with, our cellphones and laptops — is still, as in many college courses, forbidden. Much of higher education is now dependent on students being equipped with the skills and the products to achieve their academic goals. And now, Spring Lake schools have taken the initiative to incorporate new technology into some of its courses.

First-graders are using iPads in and out of the classroom. High school students are using the iPad in math and science classes. My sister, a junior at Spring Lake High School, tells me about her advance composition class, which is entirely paperless and structured around the use of Google ChromeBooks, on which students can utilize various Google programs (Google Docs, primarily) and other resources to type their essays, share them and submit them. The entire writing process can be done with no excessive handouts, and very little hassle.

So much has changed in the little time that has passed since I graduated in 2011. The ease of student-teacher interaction via the Internet, document sharing and laptops — those are very college-like applications.

There is no better form of college preparation than developing skills with technology in the classroom — all the way, K-12. It has been one of my greatest advantages at Grand Valley State University to have these skills, skills for which I owe much to Spring Lake Public Schools, and much to my parents.

Technology is not isolated to the media center. It is no longer central; it is ubiquitous. Technology is now practical, palm-sized and driving the way we interact with each other, the way we learn and the way we live on a larger scale than ever before.

— By Alexander Sinn, Tribune community columnist


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