Over the last few decades, we’ve been seeing a gradual increase in technology use for educational purposes. Classrooms have become increasingly dependent on tools like computers, tablets, and online curriculum. In fact, school districts in the US used an average of 1,449 digital tools every month during the 2020-2021 school year.
While technology use does offer some clear benefits for educators and students alike, there are also some valid concerns about this approach.
One 2019 survey indicated that technology was distracting for almost half of all students in the classroom.
So, how much technology is needed for student learning, and when does it become disruptive? Let’s take a look.
The Good & Bad of Tech for Students
We hear all the time that too much “screen time” is bad for kids. But does that apply to educational settings? What are the consequences of kids using technology at school all day, and then coming home to watch TV, do homework online, and play video games for hours? According to the Mayo Clinic, too much screen time can lead to irregular sleep, poor academic performance, less time spent on active play, and behavioral problems.
Obviously, there are pros and cons to using tech in the classroom. During the COVID-19 pandemic, technology was a literal lifesaver, helping to limit the spread of a deadly disease while allowing schools to continue providing students with an education, limited though it might have been.
But now that students are heading back into the classroom, how much technology should be used? Though there are currently no best practices established, researchers have begun to analyze the effects of technology in the classroom by using 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data.
Some devices were shown to produce worse student outcomes, which indicates that schools would do well to carefully consider what types of technology they invest in. The analysis also shows that it might be best to keep educators in charge of tech in the classrooms, as device use by teachers was associated with higher scores than technology in the hands of students.
Although these results already tell us a lot, there is still much we don’t know about how to optimize tech use in the classroom. However, they do indicate that education leaders need to tread carefully and thoughtfully in introducing more tech.
Technology Gaps & Class Divide
The pandemic revealed many inequalities in the American education system, as schools were forced to take their classes online. Around 15 million students (out of roughly 50 million total) did not have adequate Internet access to fully participate in virtual classroom assignments or the devices they needed to reach their learning goals during the pandemic. Missing school due to lack of access causes students to fall behind, making it difficult for them to catch up.
Income inequality will continue to affect low-income students more as technology’s presence in the classroom increases. The digital divide in education exists not only because individual families do not have the money to buy devices and Internet access, but because low-income schools also cannot afford to fund the necessary equipment.
If the education system intends to continue relying on digital curriculums, it will have to grapple with this reality and help students affected by a lack of resources. The good news is that some nonprofits, such as EducationSuperHighway, are working toward equitable internet access for all U.S. households.
Gamified Learning Is Effective & Enriches Education
One hugely positive trend made possible by technology in education is the gamification of core concepts that all students need to master as they progress through the school system. Children are playful by nature and respond well to learning that is delivered in a “game” format.
Additional engagement isn’t the only benefit of gamification, however. Gamification can help with concentration, processing, and information recall. In short, children learn and retain information better when it’s fun! Several EdTech companies now recognize this and have begun to incorporate gamification into their software for both students and educators. Technology provides the ideal system for this purpose.
Looking Ahead and Considering the Impact of Technology on Students
Clearly, technology offers the education system a range of powerful benefits. However, as we look to the future, it’s important to understand how and when EdTech should be used to help students learn, grow, and prepare for life in a digital world.
In the United States, McKinsey reports that students who use devices for more than 60 minutes a week have better academic outcomes, but it’s important to remember that there are many factors in play when it comes to academic performance. 81% of educators have become more confident in their ability to use EdTech since the pandemic, which could ultimately boost the benefits of using technology in the classroom.
Tech in the classroom is a delicate balance. And for now, we need to learn more about how it affects students and ensure equal access to digital resources before we go full steam ahead.
Featured Image: ThisIsEngineering, Pexels.