Textbooks versus tablets in the classroom
Weighing up the pros and cons of e-learning in South Africa's classrooms.
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Should all schools switch over to e-learning? What are the actual benefits for our children? Will all learners be able to interact via computers? Can parents afford the latest technology? Can e-learning guarantee better academic results? These are some of the questions being posed by educators as the e-learning debate gains traction.

Riverside College High School Principal and youth counsellor Dave Swart weighs up some of the pros and cons of technology and learning; “Computer-based teaching allows for better presentation of information, with the help of audio-visual media, the complex becomes easy and teaching becomes interactive. However, due to the high cost of the initial set-up and infrastructure, not all schools may be able to employ computer teaching methods.”

While Swart recognises the value of e-learning, he cautions against technology replacing conventional textbook-based teaching; “Though computers are a good aid in education, human interaction and engagement is absolutely vital and necessary for cognitive development.”

Weighing up the pros and cons of e-learning:

ADVANTAGES 

• Class work can be scheduled around a convenient time for all involved.
• Technology reduces travel time to and from school.
• Learners have the option to select learning materials that meets their level of knowledge and interest.
• Learners can study anywhere they have access to a computer and Internet connection.
• Self-paced learning modules allow learners to work at their own pace.
• Enables flexibility to join discussions or visits with classmates and teachers remotely in chat rooms.
• E-Learning can accommodate different learning styles and facilitate learning through a variety of activities.

DISADVANTAGES 

• Huge set-up and maintenance costs.
• Learners with low motivation or bad study habits may fall behind.
• Learners with barriers to learning will not have support.
• Without the routine structures of a traditional class, students may get lost or confused about learning activities and deadlines.
• Students may feel isolated from their teacher and classmates.
• The teacher may not always be available when students are studying or need help.
• Slow Internet connections or older computers may make gaining access to learning materials frustrating.
• Managing computer files and online learning software can be too complex for students with beginner-level computer skills.
• Hands-on or lab work is difficult to simulate in a virtual classroom.

“These are just a few of the generic advantages and disadvantages that have come out regarding e-learning,” says Swart. “What about the learners who are sitting in rural areas, and who speak English as a third language? What about all the children that we so willingly label as ADD or ADHD? What about the learners who cannot read?”

Swart cautions against the all or nothing mentality around e-learning; “Computers can be a brilliant aid to teaching, and we need to incorporate technology into education but until we have a better grip and understanding around technology, which is evolving at a rapid pace, we need to give learners an education that’s grounded in certainty - textbooks and human interaction should not be underestimated – they’ve done a pretty good job to date.”

Find out more about Riverside College High School on their website, Facebook or Twitter.

Would you vote for ebooks and tablets or regular textbooks in classrooms?

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