Media Monday: New year, new debates over tech in the classroom

My resolution for the month of January involves deleting quite a few news feeds and social media apps from my phone for a while. It’s not quite a media fast, but certainly a restricted diet to start the new year. At the same time, I’m becoming more convinced that my smartphone is an indispensable tool for research in my work and for exploration of the world of art and science.

Lately it seems that educators are in a similar pickle: how to balance the addictive and troublesome aspects of the digital world with the undeniable value of the information and interconnection our phones provide? How much smartphone use in the classroom is too much? When is a digital fast in order, and when should kids be gorging on the world of data, video, and stories available literally at their fingertips?

Many educators are wholly embracing the power of the computers in kids’ pockets by using Twitter, Facebook, calendar apps, and texting to connect with students about assignments; asking kids to learn about current events and scientific advances by exploring government data sites, magazines and journals,  and the latest scholarly papers; and watching academic panels and real-time experiments on video. Smartphones are also allowing for “flipped classrooms,” in which kids absorb key information online so that they can use precious class time to put their knowledge into active practice in discussions, labs, and group projects.

In the 2017 Digital Study Trends Survey, answers from high school students demonstrated that smartphones, tablets, and similar learning technologies are quickly expanding as part of most school curricula, with 60 percent of students saying that tech helps them improve their grades and prepare for exams.

One of the most exciting trends in educational technology is in the realm of assistance for kids with learning disabilities and special needs. Many phone apps allow students with a variety of reading challenges to translate written text to speech, for example.

But despite all the advantages, parents and educators are understandably concerned about the need for student privacy protections, boosting face-to-face human interaction in the classroom, and ending the use of technology employed in bullying and other forms of harassment. One recent Atlantic article sounded the alarm by suggesting that personal use of phones by teens—although not specifically classroom use—is “destroying a generation.”

It’s an issue that will likely grow even more critical in the next few years, as tech futurists are suggesting that we need to be preparing quickly for the not-science-fiction-anymore world when kids’ contact lenses will record video and artificial intelligence (AI) will help them find, read, and interpret research materials in new ways we can’t even imagine.

My resolution for the rest of 2018? To learn more about where the classroom tech debate stands now and where it’s going, and then report back here. If you’re interested, here are a few recent articles to start with:

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial