Overuse of Technology in the Classroom?

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 4 September 2023
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL
Issues covered: Technology

Emma O Kelly, RTÉ’s Education correspondent, has highlighted a concern about possible over-reliance on technology to support learning in schools. She points to a recent UNESCO report which has advised caution about the use of laptops and tablets in the classroom. They suggest that the assumed advantages to successful learning may have been be overstated and that we have perhaps wrongly assumed that because these devices have become central to children’s lives and indeed all our experience, they should and must be used. There has been a significant amount of public money invested by schools and education authorities in devices and computer systems and perhaps it is timely to ask whether we should actually be investing in more teachers and scale back the degree to which classroom learning is supported by technology? This is not to say that digital devices have no place in the classroom, but rather to focus their use on making tasks like sharing resources like handouts and power points easier and more cost effective.

This UNESCO report casts doubt on recent research on the question because much of it has come from the technology producing companies themselves who have a vested interest in promoting their products. They conclude that: "there is little robust evidence on digital technology's added value in education."  Manos Antoninis, who directed the UNESCO report, states that 20 years after laptop rollouts in schools, it is clear that such policies only work if they are set in the context of interactive teacher led lessons. He argues “that it's not enough to just distribute devices" and that, “only a few countries have got the introduction of these new approaches right.” He adds that while it is important to teach children about digital technology, it does not automatically follow that they must be taught solely through those mediums as well. They back this up by quoting OECD research in 2018 which found that; “technology use beyond a moderate threshold was associated with diminishing academic gains”.

UN Urges Caution When Using Tech in the Classroom (rte.ie)

The Derek Bok Centre for Teaching and Learning in Harvard University suggest that; “the ubiquity of these devices has been a boon to students because they can collaborate on written work, and engage with a range of media more flexibly than ever before”. They are careful too, to balance the discussion by accepting that digital devices can be an impediment to education insofar as “they enable students who are prone to distraction to indulge in the illusion that they can multitask at no cost to their learning.” They also argue that presence of electronic devices in the classroom is not of itself the problem. Rather, it's the way we incorporate electronic devices into classroom life that matters because we are all already inclined to pay attention to too many things at once at the expense of focus on the success of a task. We are just not wired to multitask well which is precisely the temptation that many students report experiencing when they are in the classroom.

Devices in the Classroom | Derek Bok Center, Harvard University

Proponents of using devices in the classroom all quote similar arguments including the fact that they are relatively inexpensive now, children find them familiar and easy to use and they can communicate with both teachers and fellow students with ease. More learning related arguments quote facts like, for example, that a tablet can store thousands of books in its memory and that therefore you can access them all simultaneously in your tablet making it easier to study or cross-reference multiple books at the same time.

So, as with any tool, how you use it is what matters. Tech devices support complex communication. They do indeed give students a way to work together on projects, access to a vast library of information and knowledge, and connect them to the wider world, which expands their horizons. They can allow virtual trips to see places and things not possible in times past. Ensuring however that all children have equal access to these devices is crucial if we are to avoid further deepening socio-economic divides.

10 Benefits Of Tablets For Students In The Classroom | NetBookNews

Writing in The Guardian, Stuart Dredge feels that the last few years have seen the biggest change in how young people spend their time since the invention of the television which changed our generation’s habits forever.

Four years ago, just 7% of 5- to 15-year-olds in the UK had access to a tablet. By last year it was 71%. He asks whether these devices – with their apps, games and access to online video – are distracting children from more traditional activities, such as reading. The figures however do not support this view it seems. Daily reading is rising for British children despite tablet growth according to the National Literacy Trust. The UK’s National Literacy Trust (NLT)‘s Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2014 report notes that the percentage of 8- to 18 year-olds reading daily outside class was 41.4% in 2014 - up from 29.1% in 2010. In spite of these positive trends, concerns remain, and Joanna de Guia for example, an independent bookstore owner, worries that; “the amount of concentration required on any digital device is very short. So, reading for pleasure is not being supported by our educational curriculum. These new toys-slash-tools [tablets] can conspire to create very short attention spans and children who want instant gratification.”

Are Tablet Computers Harming our Children's Ability to Read? | Children's Tech | The Guardian

Like television, tablets are here to stay at home and in classrooms. As always it is the skill of the teacher in managing children’s learning which will determine whether successful learning takes place, whether through “chalk and talk” or the latest i-pad. As we debate this issue in the knowledge that the limited research suggests that too much tech use might diminish academic standards, we must keep our focus on the more important objective, namely ensuring that the classroom approaches adopted still effectively guide and support children towards higher achievement.

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This article is correct at 04/09/2023

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Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

The main content of this article was provided by Frank Cassidy. Email frankcassidy63@outlook.com

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