Why 1:1 Is Not the Answer: Taking a Closer Look at Technology in the Schools

In the educational climate of today, nothing is perceived as more progressive than finding ways to digitalize everything students are doing. What started out as Smart Boards and audio/video projectors is now quickly moving to a model that is founded on one major principle:  each student must have their own computerized device(s).   This has spawned visions of cutting edge classrooms where students instantly can access information and be transported to experiences never imagined before while their teacher navigates them through an unbelievable world of learning and growth.  There is one major problem.  This image never mirrored reality, and is quickly taking on a distorted tint that was not part of the idealized plan.  In this article, I will lay out the major concerns that educators, students, and parents are quickly realizing with the 1:1 push, and why many who spend their careers advancing technology are seeking out schools for their kids that are going in a different direction. (see November 2014 article entitled High Tech CEO’s…).  I will follow this article up with a new vision for technology use for our youth that is supported by research and the values we profess.

Higher rates of technology use consistently leads to poorer outcomes. Schools are not excluded from responsibility in addressing this concern:  In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a review of studies that led to a focus on reducing screen time for youth. Repeated research indicate that the more youth are exposed to screens, the more problems they have with inattention, obesity, poor consumption of produce, noncompliance, aggression, negative mood, creative play, and academic progress.  This report did not even delve into well-established fact that screen time is directly associated with poor sleep, especially when it occurs within an hour of bedtime. AAP currently recommends no more than 2 hours of entertainment-based screen time per day to minimize all of these risks. But when school increasingly put students in front of screens throughout the day and night (in order to complete homework), they are undoubtedly contributing to the negative outcomes, which are associated with much more than just the content of what youth view. As a recent New York Times article noted, screen addiction is taking a serious toll on our children.

Research findings do not consistently reinforce that more technologically-connected schools have better outcomes: As school districts are spending millions upon billions of dollars to create their state-of-the-art classrooms, one question still looms. Where is the evidence that this money is being well spent?  Not only is there not clear data to support this monumental shift, but much of the evidence that exists is disappointing.  Schools with more technology do not consistently outperform those that have less; sometimes they even do worse.  Meanwhile, as money is spent to support a growing technology infrastructure, it threatens to reduce the number of available teachers and shrink opportunities for teacher development and student assistance.  Reportedly more than a 100,000 teachers in the U.S. lost their jobs in 2011 due to budget issues. Think technology expenses might have had a role in this?

Teachers are increasingly being minimized by the “technological advancements”: Over the past few decades, technology has often been heralded as an asset to teachers for various reasons. Used strategically, it appears that technology can provide definite advantages.  Yet, it seems that we have reached a tipping point, and that tipping point is when students are given control over technology, namely in 1:1 classrooms.  As classrooms become increasingly digitalized, and education moves more to an online model, many are asking the obvious question, “Will Technology Make Teachers Obsolete?”  If obsolete sounds too dramatic, then consider whether it will change their roles from teacher/motivator/inspirer to one more of a proctor/facilitator/moderator.  Even beyond the serious issue of how technology may change the noble, time-honored profession of teaching, it appears we may be missing something research has long known about human beings and learning.  That is, the best, most sustained learning occurs when there is a social-emotional connection, whether you are a toddler or a 90-year-old.  Remove or minimize teachers, and you are removing one of the strongest social-emotional connections that exist in the educational field.  Ask yourself.  Just which classes did you learn the most, and remember the most from to this day?  The answer for most of us comes with an authentic, unforgettable name, face and voice.  Thanks Dr. Biner for making psychology so real!

Boundaries are being blurred between home and school: Have you noticed a trend lately? Texting has taken on a whole new life.  It isn’t just parent-to-child, or youth-to-youth, or any other predictable combination. It is now teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher, and it is happening at many different points throughout the day and well before students reach the age of autonomy.  In addition to all the demands for parents/students to use online formats for assignments, this trend is increasingly blurring when the school day ends and begins for those learning and those teaching.  I have a few concerns.  The first is that it further reinforces the pressure parents (and students) feel that they all must have a mobile device (“I mean, if my son’s teacher is texting assignments, what choice do I feel I have to restrict mobile access?”).  Second, it sets up a dynamic where neither the students nor the teachers are able to go on their own way without wondering when the next contact will happen.  Teachers already have to field many more questions due to the advent of email, thus making it more difficult to balance home life and work demands.  Students already know that they are being tracked and contacted at levels never seen before.  It seems like true boundaries are needed more than ever.

Distractions are magnified, and inefficiency increases: I have already mentioned that inattention and poor academics are directly associated with high levels of screen time. But this point is specifically focused on what occurs when students spend their entire school day in front of a computer.  Although there is a subgroup of students that are likely able to remain focused and engaged, the tempting potential of laptops is taking many away from why they are in a classroom.  Again, there have always been distractions at school, from note-writing to staring out the window.  But now that many students have their own laptop (and mobile device), the sky is truly the limit on how they can disengage from teachers, who increasingly feel they must compete for their student’s attention.

Schools are inadvertently providing another forum for illicit affairs: It is bad enough when students are using school computers for illegal and illicit affairs. When it occurs with a teacher while students are in the room, it becomes extremely disturbing. Unfortunately, students surfing for pornography or through other seedy sites at school are not uncommon, and administrators are left to figure out what do with this newfound dilemma.  Firewalls and constant monitoring are two of the most obvious responses.  But even when time and money are put in this direction, the results are anything but impressive.  And this doesn’t even address the issue that quietly slips by.  That is, even supposedly respectable sites have ticker tape and other advertisements/links that lure students in to a darker corner, or at least plant iniquitous thoughts.  Have you ever noticed what flashes on the side of even online dictionary sites?  Yet, the more a school sanctions the use of this technology, the more they must bear the weight of negative outcomes that ensue.

There is a silver lining to all of this. For schools who have not embraced the immersive technology trend, or those that choose to pull back from a 1:1 model, it appears the tide is shifting.  Parents, teachers, and even students alike are increasingly voicing dissatisfaction with this premature move.  Given this, we will continue to see increasing numbers of individuals seeking out a school where people dictate the direction technology must go instead of technology dictating where people must go.  In an increasingly competitive climate for school choice, I believe that those schools who maintain a strong focus on the holistic development of their students—not just keeping up with technological trends—will reap the ultimate benefits, even if for now it seems like the road less travelled

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