Technology is everywhere. It’s driving space exploration. It is making us more efficient at work. It’s keeping us in touch with distant relatives and friends. And now — it has a prevalent place in our classrooms.
The question is, is classroom technology a good thing?
Technology has drastically impacted how we teach and how students learn within the classroom. The internet allows students to pull up information about any subject easily and quickly; this has had some noticeably positive effects:
Students can connect with the world around them through devices. They can better engage with the Social Studies curriculum and current events in a more engaging way while exploring distant countries and communities through platforms like Google Maps. There are also platforms such as ePals that allow students to have penpals from other countries to practise language learning.
Technology allows teachers to bring video, animation, games, and historical photos into the classroom like never before. Students are familiar with screens and technology outside of school; using old projectors and printed worksheets will only bore them.
When a student takes longer than class time to learn a concept, learning technologies can help bridge that gap in various ways. Firstly, learning technologies can help teach these students the concept in a new way through games or videos. Secondly, it can keep the rest of the class engaged while the teacher helps that one student unpack the new concept. Mathletics is a fantastic way to help students learn math or review learning in a gamified, interactive environment.
The Internet has the market cornered on fact recall. Students could never store all the information on the web in their brains and access it quickly, like through a Google search. In this way, education has shifted its emphasis from fact and date memorization to critical thinking and creativity. More emphasis is placed on teaching students how to fact check, think outside the box, problem-solve, and work together to memorize key historical dates.
Just like anything, there are both harmful and beneficial effects to technology in the classroom. Some of the drawbacks to technology are:
The internet has a lot of information out there, and not all of it is reliably sourced or reported. Students are regularly exposed to false information or opinions masquerading as news. This is why teachers must teach students how to fact-check what they find online and seek out reliable sources.
Social media can be a great way to connect with people who have similar interests. I’ve made the note before that it’s an excellent way for youth who feel like outsiders to find their tribe. However, when social media replaces authentic social connections, it becomes toxic. Teens and youth are especially at risk of anxiety, depression, addiction, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders linked to social media and the act of comparing themselves to what they see online directly.
Many tech usage aspects cause the body to release dopamine — the feel-good neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. We get a hit of dopamine when we receive likes on social media, level up on a game, or get a text message. Dopamine is also what is linked to most addictions. It directly relates to mood functioning and your ability to make decisions. When you feel good receiving that like on your Instagram selfie, you’ll be driven to get more likes. In addition to the mental health impacts listed above, unhealthy tech use can cause some serious issues for students, including disrupted sleep cycles, a lack of healthy exercise or diet, an inability to pay attention in class, lack of basic social connection, and behavioural outbursts when the student can’t get their “fix.”
Cyberbullying and lack of inclusion are terrifying adverse effects of technology for youth, parents, and educators. Students are navigating uncharted waters in their social hierarchies, both in the school’s hallways and in the privacy of their bedroom. The problem with cyberbullying is that it isn’t always easy to see. You can’t witness it in the same way you can see teasing in the locker bay. Feelings of not being included light up the same areas as fear & starvation in young brains.
These negative and positive effects of technology mean a constant battle of wondering how to proceed for educators and parents. Do we take the phones away from them at the door? Do we allow them in hallways and lunchrooms? How can we alter our teaching to address misinformation, social inclusion, and the negative aspects of social media, video games, and smart devices in the classroom while balancing their positive use?
These are some of my recommendations for how to handle technology in the classroom:
1. Talk openly and honestly. Students want to be treated like individuals who are empowered to make choices. When kids understand the negative impacts of eating unhealthy diets, they’re better prepared to make healthy choices independently without all of that hand-holding. The same goes for technology usage.
2. Be firm and flexible with boundaries and expectations. Lay down the rules if phones aren’t allowed in your classroom in general. Be flexible with students who may require them for learning differences (ex my son has ADHD & uses his phone to take pictures of assignments). Setting these boundaries and expectations with students helps them to understand what’s expected of them. These boundaries and expectations also help youth and children to develop healthy habits for later in life.
3. Understand the importance of technology in education. You can’t ignore technology. It has so many benefits in the classroom and can infuse excitement and vibrance in learning that students need to stay engaged and interested. If you expect them to leave their phones at the door, you have to be willing to incorporate healthy tech into the classroom in other ways.
Technology is a part of everyday life for most youth globally. Educators need to develop the tools to help students avoid tech’s negative impacts, identify reliable information online, notice what healthy and unhealthy tech is, and create good tech habits for the future.
If you’re looking to learn more about creating a healthy environment in the classroom with technology, I can help. I offer training and speaking to educational groups on this topic and many more. Get in touch today. I want to help educators feel empowered to help students thrive with tech by their side!