by Isabel Long
High Schools all over the United States race to be up-to-date with all of the technological advancements that hurl through more and more of our daily lives. Computer labs are growing, laptops are being distributed, smart boards are being installed, and smartphones in class continue to be an increasing issue.
While the time students spend on electronics increases all over the nation, some parents and educators forget to think about the impacts it may have on young minds.
Is it true that migraines are a result of staring at screens for extended amounts of time? Do parents everywhere struggle to tear their children away from their laptops and cellphones? Does childhood obesity have a possible link to children staying indoors playing video games instead of exercising? All possible hypotheses that could show that technology is doing a lot more harm than good.
Technology in the classroom continues to present more and more benefits and drawbacks. “Overall it’s very hard to characterize because there are lots and lots of districts that are trying to implement technology,” says Professor Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at University of Virginia who specializes in brain mechanisms as they apply to education.
Technology has presented barriers to productivity in the classroom. How many times has a teacher had to work around their whole lesson plan because one student’s laptop has died? Or has a student had an assignment count as late because their computer malfunctioned? Or has a parent not been able to help their child because of the barriers that ‘all online’ presents?
As schools continue to introduce more and more technology some prosper while others lack fundamental structuring. “Some of them are doing probably a pretty good job, a very small number that are doing an excellent job, there are a lot that are not doing a very good job. And I think it’s because people really underestimate what the potential problems are,” said Professor Willingham.
There are often some seemingly unfixable problems: a teacher who does not like to use technology, students who do not obtain social skills from the lack of face to face interactions, and decreases in overall focus and wrongly directed attention .
Alfonzo Porter from the Washington Post records that there are benefits to the advancement in classrooms. He wrote in a January 2013 article that “Roughly 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a mostly positive impact on student research skills.” This is because they become more independent researchers.
Mr. Stu Poindexter, an English teacher at Monticello High School in Albemarle County, said, “I think [technology is] definitely helpful. It gives us a lot of tools to be able to use in our classroom to increase student engagement. I think that there are just so many benefits to it, because essentially the world is at our fingertips.”
Conflictingly, Willingham said, “Almost always when I’m in a district, teachers talk with me about the issues about malfunctions. (And) so teachers get frustrated because they say it’s like I have to have two lesson plans.” One lesson plan on the technology, and another for when there is a malfunction, which happens to be quite common.
Mr. Poindexter reflected on other drawbacks of technology being always so readily available to students. “The worst thing [technology] has presented is just the level of distraction that student’s have at their fingertips.” He said. “It’s easier to combat cell phones and iPads and things of that nature. You can make sure that students don’t have them out, but when they’re allowed to have a laptop out and you’re encouraging them to use it, it’s a different story. There are just so many ways to get distracted.”
Overall, there are obvious benefits of the advancement of technology in school environments, along with not so obvious problems that could eventually lead to major issues with students grades and the amount of material they are actually learning in their classes.
Professor Daniel Willingham said, “Before the schools embark on a plan to bring in more technology, there needs to be a fully articulated goal on what they [think] technology [is] going to do for students.”