In the past 10 years, technological advances have led to overwhelming changes in our lives. As these technologies continue to develop, we find ourselves relying more and more heavily on these devices and services to get though day-to-day life. Everywhere we go, we take a piece of technology with us. These technologies have even found their way into the classroom.

Before, there were chalkboards, projectors and lesson plans on paper passed from teacher to teacher. Now, teachers use smart boards and online lesson plans. Students used simple calculators and pencil and paper to spend hours trying to solve long, complex math problems. Now, they use hi-tech calculators and solve long, complex math problems in seconds. Needless to say, this has been easier on both teachers and students. But at what cost?

Savvy students have found a way to use technology to their advantage. With online lesson plans, students can use carefully chosen search words to find word-for-word answer keys. Or, if an answer key is not available, they can use ask-and-answer websites and forums, like ask.yahoo.com or wiki.answers.com, to talk with people all over the world. To access these websites, students can type in questions word-for-word into a search engine, like Google or Yahoo, and answers pop up in seconds.

That isn’t the only way to find quick answers. If an average high school has more than 1,000 students, there will always be others to turn to. Who better to ask than the friends who sit next to you in class all day, hearing and learning the same thing you do? With texting, instant messaging, Facebook and email, communication can be as instantaneous as talking face to face. This adds up to an extremely easy way to collaborate on homework, most likely by sharing answers.

Not all technology-related education is harmful. Laptops and personal computers have been a huge change in schools for the better. Up-to-date information can be found easier and faster than 10-year-old books in a library. Textbooks and coursework can be uploaded and posted online, making access possible wherever a computer is located. Typed homework and presentations can be emailed directly to teachers or saved to an online account like Google Docs or Edmodo.

Support for out-of-class projects can be difficult if members can’t find a way to all be in the same place at the same time. This can be achieved using the aforementioned instant communication methods, or even Skype or FaceTime. When creating visual presentations, students can use online accounts, like Prezi, that allow collaborative editing (two people in two different locations editing the same presentation at the same time). Even simply using email to send information back and forth is far better than waiting to talk later.

The biggest gain computers have brought to education are online courses. Home school and extra-curricular courses have become easier and faster to accomplish thanks to access to the Internet. And it’s not just for home-schooled and gifted students; college students and adults looking to further their education and careers have been using free online courses to accomplish their goals.

As Daphne Koller of Coursera put it, “… By opening up [online] education for free to everyone around the world, we’re going to turn education, high-quality education, from a privilege to a basic human right, so that anyone, no matter their social, economic or family circumstances, has access to the best education.”

No matter what view you take on technology, you have to admit it has made awe-inspiring changes and advances to our lives. Whatever we do and wherever we go, technology has had a part in it. Technology will continue to change, advancing and increasing its reach and influence all over the world. Who knows, it may even change the way we learn even more. Whether we like it or not, technology is now an essential part of our lives.

Anita Laulainen is a junior at Mat-Su Career and Technical High School.

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