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Tech in the Classroom – Purpose vs. Screen Time

May 12, 2016

At a recent meeting with several teachers, the discussion centered around community perceptions of the ‘Next Generation” classrooms.  A few of the teachers reported they have heard concerns from parents about “too much screen time” when they discuss the use of technology in classrooms.  As we explored this line of thinking, it became apparent that many parents and community members are not fully cognizant of how technology enhances the classroom experience rather than detract from it.

The time that the students are productively using devices vs. just having access to devices in the classrooms is a point that needs clarification.  Additionally, the way in which technology functions in the school setting often differs dramatically from the way in which students use technology in social situations or home environments. For example, I allow my children to watch Netflix and play FIFA for recreation.  This type of use is not an activity that occurs at school. The use of technology at school (during class time) is purposeful, and aligned with curricular goals.

The other underlying bias is that technology is distracting.  Frank Furedi, in “Focus Fracus” (Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 2015) notes the parallel between today’s perceived technology-induced distraction and the fear felt when Socrates warned that writing would weaken students’ memory capacity.  Similarly, panic ensued in the 1700’s over mass-market publications that led to “book madness” and “reading mania” that somehow the lust for reading fiction would cause readers to lose control of their lives.  Furedi concludes,  “In the end, what motivates students is not the availability of fancy gadgets, but the quality of the content included in the lessons. Instead of blaming the supposed Age of Distraction or turning the classroom into a digital playpen, we should think harder about how we can earn the attention of our students.”  Gaining the attention of the students begins with well-designed lessons. The delivery of that content is facilitated through strong pedagogy and the use of instructional technology.

In the Next Generation classrooms, students have access to endless information at the touch of a button. The classroom extends far beyond the school room walls in these 21st Century learning spaces. Making global connections, becoming more culturally aware, and discovering new ideas are explored through authentic and project-based lessons. Ultimately, the intent is to prepare students to live, work, and play in an increasingly more complex society.  Technology is the vehicle by which these experiences flourish.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Monica Sieh permalink
    May 16, 2016 10:08 am

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. Aside from those two concerns, as a parent, there are basic points about the technology in the next-gen classrooms that are not made clear to us. I understand that the child watches a video lesson and then does an activity to support the learning. What is not clear to me is what happens if the child does not fully understand the material in her lesson. Does my child’s classroom teacher spend one-on-one time at that point to find out where the disparity is? Or does the child watch the same or another video? How much of this gap does the teacher fill actively (“I see that you are having trouble with factors; let’s go over what factors are.”), and how much of it is student-driven (“Let me know if you have any questions.”)? If my child is already working above grade level, is she still getting support in her learning in an interactive way, or is it really just self-directed so the teacher can spend more time and energy on students who are at or below grade level? Students can have different learning methods; what if a student doesn’t learn best through videos? Does the student get a chance to explore the math lessons from the videos through manipulatives, or they don’t use manipulatives (cubes, tokens, etc) in conjunction with iPad lessons and instead only when they’re doing traditional lessons?

    There are a lot of things I like about the next-gen classrooms, but I think that the district could offer more information about it to parents who aren’t getting a clear picture of how it is affecting classroom instruction.

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