Digital devices in the classroom: A learning aid or a toxic distraction for kids?

While some schools are introducing iPads as part of their daily curriculum, and others are banning all digital devices entirely; the topic of devices in the classroom is hotly debated, especially as we enter Back To School season.

This recent article that went viral on Twitter recently demonstrates just how divisive this topic can be.

https://twitter.com/nick_kapur/status/1032687436185436166/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1032687436185436166&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fblog.remarkable.com%2Fmedia%2Ff41b71e7a040169fc2ef74601b8bb27d%3FpostId%3Da5efb434809

Many of us feel like the powerful folks in Silicon Valley, the ones who try and feed our kids more technology, are keeping it away from their own children.

So, are access to digital devices good or bad for helping kids learn in the classroom? Or is the answer more nuanced than that?

We took a look at the pros, cons and recent research to find out:

Why exposure to digital devices in the classroom is a good thing?

Whether we agree with it or not, technology is a big part of our lives and school-aged children today are very much digital natives: They grow up with technology rather than learning the skills as an adult (like many of us in the older generations who are more aptly named “digital immigrants.”)

In the US more than one of three middle school students report using smartphones (39%) and tablets (31%) to do homework according to a 2012 study commissioned by Verizon.

Much of the world that they already have, and will, interact with is digital. This includes the inevitable use of technology in their future careers. So why not have it as part of their education?

According to a study by the IT Trade Association, educators say that developing technological skills with their students is important preparation for joining the workforce later in life.

Students need to be device and mobile literate for their careers, and the students themselves seem to concur; with nine out of ten agreeing that using technology in the classroom would help prepare them for the digital future.

Alongside this is the importance of promoting good digital citizenship. Using the internet effectively, responsibly and safely are important skills which should be developed by parents, educators and school counselors.

Do digital devices in the classroom help kids learn?

While the argument for digital device education and experience seems strong, is this sort of technology in the classroom actually beneficial to learning?

As Vawn Himmelsbach, Education Technology writer, points out; there are seemingly lots of reasons why online digital devices help in the learning environment. Not only do students have access to a vast world of information and learning materials but that this kind of technology allows students to learn at their own pace through individualized instruction.

Also, rather than just passively learning in the classroom, kids become more much interactive with the teacher thus they become more of an advisor or coach as the kids explore their learning more independently.

Lastly, using online polls, quizzes and similar activities could help engage all students, including those who are normally shy and wouldn’t always raise their hand in class to participate.

It’s no wonder that, in a recent survey, around 75% of educators think technology has a positive impact in the education process.

While this sounds promising, and there are clear advantages to having technology in the classroom, the current research in this area suggests that we should be cautious with how we use it and that learning can just as quickly be hindered by these same devices.

What the research says:

While some devices can be of benefit, there’s a plethora of research also suggesting that many of these devices, especially laptops, distract from learning. Not only for the student using the device but for those around them.

In one particular study they found that, regardless of the duration, any laptop use negatively affects students learning in terms of information recollection. This is backed by the fact that multitasking and distraction devices affect our ability to study, as we outlined in our recent article on “How to stay focused while studying”.

This is certainly true when the device allows for browsing that isn’t relevant to the studies. But another study reported that, even when the device allows for relevant information browsing and school-related apps and sites, that this isn’t helpful for learning either.

When it comes to devices like iPads, which have growing popularity in classes for much younger students, the results seem much the same.

While people (students and educators alike) report enjoying having them in the classroom, there is much concern around the potential to be distracted by them.

It’s also worth noting that handwriting, rather than typing, is very beneficial to information processing, focus and memory. Read more about it in our recent article on the benefits of handwriting.

We also recently explored the latest trend of embracing doodling in the classroom as well. Which is shown to have similar benefits.

Conclusion? It’s not the device, it’s the distraction.

Being able to use digital devices efficiently is an important part of education for young digital natives and there seems to be lots of good arguments for the benefits of these technologies to aid learning.

However, many of these devices are proving to be too distracting and come with platforms and apps that are inherently designed to be addictive and steal your focus.

This is what drives our philosophy at reMarkable. We created a new type of device as a protest to the distractions that surround us every day. A digital tool designed to reclaim our thoughts and focus. Setting a new direction for human-friendly technology.

-Medium

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