The role for technology in education, and the impact technology has on children generally, is a thoroughly embedded topic for debate. I’m sure if twitter had been around at its inception, the Casio Databank would’ve been the topic for a whole half-term’s Edutwitter ‘civilised’ discussion but there is an understandable increase in these sorts of conversations as we try to keep up.
The latest story to hit the tech-debate radar is this one in the Toronto Star reporting that grade 7 and 8 students at Earl Grey Senior Public School are to have restricted access to their mobile phones during lessons. Now, I work in a school where the pupils have always handed everything in when they get to school – even before mobile phones were commonplace – so I’ve not really noticed the rise in personal tech use in classroom in perhaps the same way as other schools, but it still seems odd that this sort of ban (and not even for all year groups) would be newsworthy.
Screen-use in the classroom is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, so what concerns should we have with this? Carl Hendrick recently blogged about why the Internet should be kept out of the classroom, citing a 2016 study (Ravizza et al) looking at how university students use laptops in class reported the relationship between classroom performance and internet usage. They found that ‘nonacademic Internet use was common among students who brought laptops to class and was inversely related to class performance’. A recently published Japanese study (Kawahara and Ito, 2017) looked at the ‘Effect of the Presence of a Mobile Phone during a Spatial Visual Search’ and found that even without using it, the mere presence of a mobile phone can adversely affect cognitive performance. This offers an opportunity for us to look at the impact of classroom technology and how schools can use classroom technology in a balanced way.
In response to an open letter published in December 2016 over concerns about children’s ‘screen-based’ lifestyles, a second letter quickly responded, calling for ‘quality research and evidence to support these claims and inform any policy discussion’. Whilst worries over increasingly sedentary lifestyles and mental health issues are understandable, the letter argues that there is little evidence to support the concerns in the initial letter and encourages the government and research bodies to invest in well-founded guidelines.
The evidence around the benefits and disadvantages of technology for children is ever-changing. In 2015 the American Academy of Paediatrics reviewed their guidelines for early childhood screen time, mostly based on old research into television time, which previously recommended that children under two should stay away from screen media. They have now provided more evidence-based guidance as to how children should use screens, including for unstructured play and the positives of video chatting with distant relatives.
At our school a decision was reached several years ago to provide each pupil with their own laptop to use in school. As we started to expand we found our ICT suite with 6 laptops wasn’t enough for 30 pupils and they were getting damaged etc so we started to roll out laptops and now we have 1:1 from KS2-4. Pupils use these within all lessons – we run KS2/3 on a mostly primary model of class teacher teaching most subjects with some specialist teachers/swapping (KS4 is more specialist). Laptops move with the pupil throughout day/years – it’s easier to track use and damage etc. Obviously (perhaps) laptops aren’t used in every lesson but they are used a lot. They are also used during some reward times and some break times (probably why online games are still accessible).
Certain websites are blocked from use like social media/YouTube/keywords and as websites appear that we want to block (YTPak as a YouTube substitute for instance) we can inform our blocking people (although I did find recently that I wasn’t able to access websites using the word ‘edge’ in the URL. This was an issue as I was trying to look at the knowledge organiser blogs and ‘knowledge’ was banned). We also use software for managing and monitoring what the pupils are using live. Teachers can view (and control) pupil laptops which is useful for both instances of inappropriate pupil activity and in-lesson sharing of work on the IWB. If pupils are using the computers inappropriately then we have reward/sanction systems that are used.
Clearly this is different to other types of screen use in the classroom but I do have concerns that we, staff and pupils, can be over-reliant on the laptops. Whether that means a reduction in the amount of handwriting pupils do, ‘lazy’ internet research (we’ve all heard amusing tales of Wikipedia regurgitation), or a slightly more concerning impact on processing information as described by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) looking at laptop vs written note-taking by university students. Our pupils don’t take a huge amount of notes in lessons, but if we over rely on using the laptops when they do, the chances are we’re denying them the opportunity to process the information in a meaningful way.
Even if we can’t do much about what they do at home, we have a lot of control over how much technology pupils use in the classroom. There are some great resources out there and the deeper debate over this is perhaps for another day, but how much of school-tech is driven by what staff quite fancy having a play around with over the genuine benefits in the classroom? It’s almost becoming a cliché to ask whether the 1:1 iPads are essential or could you do it another way and save thousands of pounds (seems old but I had this conversation a fortnight ago). In a desire for an easy ride, doing something different’, squeezing in some of those illusive ’21st Century Skills’, is it actually more revolutionary to go without?
More robust research will hopefully lead to better guidelines, but we need to use our professional common sense as well. We’ll never be completely on top of it but we do have some control over our classrooms and probably just as well because with last month’s speculation that Apple are set to introduce a ‘cinema mode’ for iPhones, it seems like it soon won’t be single screen-use we’ll be discussing, but perhaps multi-screen use as well.