Throughout my entire career, I have been an advocate of using technology to help educate. When I was in college, training to be a teacher, I began thinking about this and then my first job out of college was helping teachers integrate and use tech in the classroom. That was a long time ago and a lot has changed.
Two recent articles in the New York Times got me thinking about this even more. One, titled “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley,” and another “The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected” have begun to make me question this thinking or at least question the way we approach technology in the classroom.
The article about kids and screens covers a topic we hear a lot about in the news. Are phones, social media and screens having an unintended consequence of causing loneliness, anxiety and depression in people (and mainly children)? The consensus, some scientific and much anecdotal, seem to say yes. This should be an eye opening experience for those of us in the education world who have been thinking that this technology is a cure for many problems. I remember writing in past articles that teachers who tell students to put their phones (or other technical devices) away are basically telling them that they are no longer in the real world. It is still true today that if you tell a student to put their phone away, they will tell you about how you don’t understand “kids today.” To a degree, this is true. Ignoring that the technology exists is not going to prove to be very useful either. Yet, if our children are being exposed to things that are causing severe mental illness in them, we have to do something.
The second article also began to make me wonder and worry, because it challenged another philosophy that I have held for years. In 2000, then-governor of Maine Angus King started a program that would allow every student in public schools in Maine to be issued a laptop computer. This was a breakthrough at the time, particularly in such a rural state where there exists a true divide between those who have access to technology and those who do not. This divide continues to this day, as there are lots of areas in the state where you can not get any type of internet connection. This article, however, begins to lay out that the digital divide is moving in the opposite direction. The people who can afford it are sending their children to schools who do not use technology or screens, while the less affluent are unable to do that and technology is used heavily in those schools. The affluent families are going back to letting their children learn by touching and doing. Screen time for these children is extremely limited, as parents have the time and/or resources to ensure the time is limited.
I understand that most of the audience reading this are not consumers of AV. That is, most of you are not in schools, designing curriculum and helping teachers understand how to use it. However, I believe that the concerns raised by these articles are relevant to everyone and they are everyone’s responsibility to to think about and help solve. It’s not the articles alone, either. Simply watch any child when you put them in front of a screen. They change when it happens; you see physically see it in them. I understand that we are not going to pull back on all of the technology that we use. Most of us are not willingly go to give up our smart devices. However, we can think about designing technology, particularly for education, in a way that protects the students. I hope that active learning plays a big role in this in the future. Properly designed active learning rooms allow some use of technology, but also require people to talk with each other, touch things and do work on paper. It requires them to stand in front of peers and teachers and give presentations. I understand that this is a difficult and thorny issue, but I believe that as a industry we can begin to think about what changes we can make to be sure are children’s minds are safe. This is a particularly passionate topic for me, so I am anxious to hear if anyone has experiences with school’s using technology in ways that keeps these dangers in mind.