Technology In Schools… All Play and No Work?

Technology In Schools Interest BlogA debate rages on inside our public school buildings, and it’s not over the usual curriculum and lunch menus. No, instead a question is being raised over what technologies are appropriate in modern learning. Large school systems are often slow to enact large overhauls and policies, leaving individual schools and teachers to navigate potential grey areas. Nowhere have we seen this effect more than in the astronomical rise in the prevalence of portable electronic devices. Previously, many schools adopted a zero tolerance policy in regards to cell phones, tablets, and the like. Now we’re seeing a bit of a détente in the Luddite like attitudes of school administrators. Where before the sight of a cell phone carried a near guaranteed punishment, now administrations are warming to the idea of having designated times when electronics may be used. The real question is: How does this affect the students? There are good points raised on both sides, and the answer is not clear cut, but hopefully this blog will provide you some needed information on the subject.

Studying the psychological effects of constant connectivity is a fairly new idea, but there is no doubt that the internet has changed how we interact with other people. In a study published in June of 2012, researchers at Pennsylvania State University1 found a potential link between social media use and social anxiety. This is just one of many studies that have found links, tenuous or not, between prolonged internet use and a changing psychological state. Critics of electronics in schools often point to cases like these to assert that there is not enough data on the long term effects of internet use at a young age.

Conversely, proponents of personal technology in school look at the studies and note that the subject group is composed of mostly young adults, which they rightfully note, is not a good representation of the young minds typically affected by this sort of thing. It does raise some interesting questions, however. It’s already known that the current generation of school children has been familiar with this technology practically since they were born, and many elementary school students are growing up playing games and watching TV on iPads rather than more “traditional” activities. The question that must be asked is: What if being exposed to such a high degree of connectivity at an early age has changed the way they think? These children have grown up in a world where anyone can be talked to in an instant, and knowledge is just a few taps a way. Perhaps some of the fears of this technology’s effect on children simply comes from projecting our own fears about things that we don’t have proper knowledge of, and can only be gained by growing up immersed in the culture.

Another valid concern raised by the “anti” crowd is that students whose parents have the wealth to purchase electronics are given an unfair advantage. In the past, a vocal minority would get angry over “the value of education being diminished” by the ability to simply look something up when one doesn’t remember it. Nowadays, such concerns have largely subsided, but the point is still somewhat valid when comparing students with access to these tools, and students without access. It has long been known that wealth gaps correlate strongly to performance in a school setting,2 and opponents of student technological interaction worry that integrating personal technology into school work will only worsen the gap.

Disregarding the debate over personal technology, most people can agree that fostering a better understanding of modern technology using school provided technology, is a worthwhile endeavor. Outside of a few outlier cases in which schools overstepped their boundaries, such as spying on students with school issued laptops3, integrating technology into classrooms has been met with resounding praise. In some cases these integrations can be simple, composed of things such as basic computer courses and typing, but more and more often, we are seeing a shift towards teaching children basic programming and coding. On a more theoretical and exciting front, we are seeing an interesting blend in what we typically think of as work and play. Video games and online entertainment, such as Nationstates and Minecraft, have been utilized in different scenarios in order to create a more memorable and unique learning experience.

As you can see, there is no easy answer to this issue, and the people who are truly affected by dilly-dallying in policy changes, are the children that these policies are enacted to protect. Change won’t come overnight, but real answers must come soon. Too often, policies are enacted by well-meaning folk who enact changes in education that they think would be helpful. The problem with relying on what they think makes for easier learning, inevitably means easier for them. This is not out of any malicious intent. No, indeed many, if not all, school administrators are in the job because they love helping children. It’s just human nature to rely on one’s own experience when shaping someone else’s. Unfortunately, the children are left to suffer through it.


  1. Social Media may cause Social Anxiety Author: David Zaro (Blog Post)

  2. Teaching with Poverty in Mind Author: Eric Jensen (Article) Harriton High School Used Laptop Webcams To SPY On Students At Home, Suit Alleges Author: Mary Claire Dale (Article)


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