The use of technology in K-12 settings has exploded in recent years. It is now standard practice for many school districts to allocate a budget to purchase devices for every pupil. These range from tablets, like iPads or similar, to laptops and other digital hardware.
However, the educational landscape is rife with strong opinions both for and against such widespread use of technology in classrooms. Studies are inconclusive and reveal that the educational process can be both benefited and harmed by technology. There isn’t a clear-cut determination available as to whether increasing the use of technology is helping or hurting education. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the risks alongside the benefits.
Here are a few ways technology affects education and what to watch out for.
Technology’s Negative Health Effects on Children
Despite the ways technology can positively influence and help our children, interacting with technology (particularly at the large volume that is becoming increasingly standard for our youth) can cause a wide variety of undesired effects on a child’s overall health. These can include:
Difficulties Falling Asleep
Children should ideally get 10 hours of sleep a night. Because of the nature of the light digital screens produce, screened device usage affects our body’s production of melatonin and can make it more difficult for our brains to achieve natural sleep easily.
Children who use screens significantly during the day or, especially, interact with screens at night before bed can find it more difficult to fall asleep or achieve the number of sleep hours they need.
Greater Chance of Developing Anxiety or Depression
Children are particularly susceptible to the negative effects often caused by frequent engagement with social media. Heavy social media usage can decrease an individual’s in-person interaction, limit the types of relationships they engage with, and create unrealistic perceptions of the world. This all contributes to a greater risk of experiencing anxiety or depression.
Diminished Physical Activity
More time interacting with technology leaves less time for play, enjoying the outdoors, and moving around the house.
Prolonged periods of looking at screens over an extended amount of time can have various adverse effects on children’s eyes and vision. Cases of nearsightedness (an outcome of too much screen time) have increased significantly in children over the last 30 years. Extended screen exposure can also dry, irritate, and tire the eyes, causing deterioration or complications.
The last two years have tremendously increased the reality of social isolation due to COVID-19 and worldwide steps taken to combat the pandemic. However, increased screen availability and widespread use had already begun creating this reality before the pandemic hit. Social isolation refers to a “‘lack of social connections.’”
While technology helps maintain contact and even real-time personal interactions during periods when in-person interactions are restricted, technology can also enable people and especially children to forgo real relationships and spend their time and energy interacting in pseudo-relationships or virtual environments instead.
Technology’s Effects on Learning Environments
As technology reached a point of widespread accessibility, its benefits were touted widely. Classrooms and school districts readily implemented technology-heavy practices across a wide spectrum of applications and geographical areas. However, as we begin to see the significant and often nuanced effects technology can have on children particularly when used in educational settings, it is important to make sure parents, children, and educators are aware of the real risks associated with heavy technology use.
In some places, parents have campaigned to limit screens or devices used in their children’s classrooms. In others, States or school boards have commissioned studies to better understand the long-term effects of technology’s prevalence in educational settings.
Some of the more common reasons for questioning our reliance on device-centered teaching or technology-heavy educational experiences include the following:
- Technology has the tendency to create or perpetuate low attention spans. Research across a range of metrics and demographics reveals a sobering trend towards lower attention spans and greater difficulty focusing on tasks. Interaction with common technological elements in the form of fast-changing images and experiences, flashing lights, fast-paced play and quick interaction patterns has been connected with developing conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The generations currently experiencing elementary and secondary education are already showing signs of higher rates of attention span difficulty than ever before.
- Technology is difficult to monitor and exposes children to unforeseen dangers. Reports of children being exposed to explicit material can be found as early as Kindergarten. Though schools can employ safeguards to mitigate the exposure a child might inadvertently experience through the use of a school device to something damaging or unhealthy, these safeguards aren’t foolproof. Technology’s ubiquity and constant accessibility for children make it much more likely that a given child will be exposed to material, media, or language their parents wouldn’t prefer or permit, or that is unhealthy for their age or development stage.
- Technology reduces the average child’s amount of in-person social interaction. When every student in a classroom or a school has a personal or school device they can constantly access, times during the school day that would historically have been filled with in-person interaction in the form of play, conversations with schoolmates, and informal social behaviors are often consumed instead by interaction with their devices.
The use of technology in K-12 learning settings isn’t a completely bleak tale. In fact, tools like tablets and other digital devices can be used effectively, allowing for access to the higher-quality curriculum and learning aids that can improve performance. It takes time, awareness, and intentionality to learn how to apply technology to the educational setting effectively.