The “Traditional” Classroom: The impact of technology on 21st Century learners

By Andrew Withers:

As a student preparing to educate in the 21st Century, I become more aware each day of the undeniable paradigm shift approaching the world of education; a shift from the “Traditional Classroom” to the New “Traditional” Classroom. This transitional period goes beyond lesson planning, grading, and assessing, and delves right to the core of the everyday routine. Technology and its practices will permeate everything from teaching strategies, to student interaction, to distraction levels, to disciplinary methods. In my own personal effort to divert the feeling of cluelessness in my first years in the classroom, I allowed myself to bravely venture alone where few sophomores in college have ventured before; a 1:1 iPad integrated school. After spending a month in a classroom in this school, the epiphanies and realizations I experienced taught me more than any lecture or textbook could have. With a new perspective on technology in education, I return to Luther brimming with ideas, opinions, and excitement, feeling immensely more prepared to tackle 21st Century learners.

While my observations in a single, relatively “standard,” Iowa classroom are revealing, great information and realizations mean nothing without reinforcement. And so, with this experience under my belt, I dug deeper. Megabytes upon megabytes of articles, resources, and opinions exist out there surrounding technology in education, but the two reviewed in this piece especially exemplify realizations similar to those I have had.

My first emphasis undoubtedly revolves around the effectiveness of internet-based reflection and thought synthesis. On a personal level, my belief in blogging was initially low. Entering my experience in the technology-rich classroom, I had not only never kept a blog or written one, but I had consistently stood firm to my opinion that I would not enjoy it. As I planned for my research, however, blogging seemed the most practical way to “publish” my thoughts, so I decided to try it. Much to my surprise, synthesizing my thoughts via blog each day was refreshing, simple, and effective. The more digging I did, I found this consensus is rather widespread as more and more educators are finding value in internet-based reflection. Three Hartford University professors, in their article titled “Reflecting on Literacy Practices: Using Reflective Strategies in Online Discussion and Written Reflective Summaries,” elaborate on their use of online reflection for pre-service teachers in their program. This article, published in the Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, is precise and accurate in its subdivision of online reflection and the effectiveness of its practice as the authors looked at the clarification, enhancement, provision of evidence, challenge, and differentiation of thinking facilitated through these reflective strategies. Broken down between a number of examples, the authors describe an effectiveness similar to that which struck me through my blogging experience. Beyond simply describing the use of reflective practices in their college classrooms, these Hartford University authors reiterate the fact that they are teaching pre-service teachers with the hope of future technology use in their own classrooms down the road. To truly understand the impact of Internet-based reflective practices and writing, I highly recommend “poking your nose into” this piece; a relatively quick, but enjoyable, rich, and well-written article. Beyond its emphasis on reflection online, the article also touches on the necessity for balance and effective use of written reflection. This leads perfectly into another of my “epiphanies:” the necessity for variety and the effectiveness of written work in a technology-rich classroom.

After only a short time in the classroom during my research, I coined the term “tech-bloat” on my blog. This came after a realization on my part that, even with all the benefits technology brings to the educational setting, there is a danger looming. Districts and educators must exercise caution, as they implement technology-rich classroom formats, not to overload curriculum with technology. As in all educational settings and instruction, the key is balance. I found relatively early on in my experience that students crave variety, and once the “shiny-factor” of new technology has worn off, they will miss old paper/pencil work. Teaching effectively is not a matter of implanting the newest shiny gadgets, rather utilizing the most effective tool for the lesson, activity, or assessment to best reach the students. Educators and classrooms that attempt to tackle everything with technology will not only suffer from “tech-bloat,” but find themselves with students equally as disengaged as they were when they wrote entirely by hand! Again, my personal experience means little without reinforcement, so my research took me a bit deeper. To my immense delight, I found a co-written article by an Australian professor and a Canadian professor describing the changing paradigm in texts and literature practices in the 21st Century classroom. This spans beyond opinion, beyond country, beyond continent, and even beyond hemisphere as these professors from (literally) opposite sides of the world are seeing commonalities in the way technology has shifted the classroom approach to reading and literacy. The piece, titled “Living in the iWorld,” and published in English Teaching: Practice and Critique, does a phenomenal job of elaborating on the changes and shifts in how students read, interact, and view literature and text. Many of the examples and observations from both Canada and Australia describe balance and integration, yet others depict the complete change in our children’s interaction with text, much of which is facilitated by this “tech-bloat” I’m referring to. Ultimately, this article is a succinct exemplar of what this transition looks like, how it carries over into homes, how parents facilitate technology integration, and how children’s creativity impacts technological implementation. For those educators hoping for a bit of detail and encouragement surrounding the balance involved with technology, this is a great starting point to not only see this balance in action but to get a wider, cross-cultural, multi-national scope on the issue.

These two articles, which I chose to review and dig deeper into, are but the surface of a very complex, rich, relevant and intriguing issue. I am only scratching the topsoil. Nonetheless, it is my ambition to facilitate and raise awareness regarding this undoubtedly prevalent issue forthcoming in the educational sector. Please find hotlinks below to my blog and my education-based Twitter account for perusing at your leisure. Also, I have included pieces clipped from a few of my blog posts that were especially “a-ha moments” for me. If any of them strike you, please follow that link directly to that day’s writing.

At the end of the day, ultimately, I was truly struck by this changing paradigm in education. I hope, through this review and presentation of resources, you have been able to re-think your own classroom, challenge traditional thinking, more effectively implement technology, and above all, learn something. In a similar spirit to my first blog post ever, I hope you have now realized, “as an educator learning in this critical ‘transition stage’ in education, that there is an inevitability of change in the educational paradigm necessitating prepared and competent educators ready to handle teaching through technology. I hope you have found this review, and my blog, helpful and interesting as you embark on the journey ahead into the ‘digital jungle’ of the 21st Century classroom. The NEW ‘Traditional’ Classroom.”


  • Twitter – @awithEd

I encourage you to explore the links to the right of the blog to discover countless other “a-Ha moments,” links, resources, and pictures.


Joan, Pedro, Abodeeb-Gentile Theresa, and Courtney Ann. “Reflecting on Literacy Practices: Using Reflective Strategies in Online Discussion and Written Reflective Summaries.” Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education. 29.2 (2012): 39-47. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <>.

Joanne, O’Mara, and Laidlaw Linda. “Living in the iWorld: Two Literacy Researchers Reflect on the Changing Texts and Literacy Practices of Childhood.” English Teaching: Practice and Critique. 10.4 (2011): 149-159. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <>.