by James A. Bacon
In Bath County Google has wired school buses, turning them into “rolling study halls for students with long commutes and sometimes patchy or nonexistent Wi-Fi at home,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The pilot program, being funded in 15 school districts in 13 states, will last at least through the end of the school year.
Clearly, technology can do wonderful things to help children learn. Accessing the Internet can open up a world of knowledge. Students can watch taped lectures outside classroom so teachers can use their face time applying and discussing the content. Technology can enable personalized learning, adapted to children’s individual learning styles and pace of learning. Distance learning can deliver specialized courses, such as Latin or Japanese, to rural school districts where the courses would otherwise be unavailable.
Responding to this siren call, many Virginia school districts have invested heavily in providing laptops and computers to their students. More recently, Virginia became the first state in the country to mandate the teaching of computer science and coding. Standards of Learning for Computer Science, finalized in 2017, will be taught starting in the 2019-20 academic year.
It would seem to be common sense to teach computer literacy in an increasingly wired world. But skepticism is growing in many quarters about the benefits of computers and digital technology. “Schools Pushed for Tech in Every Classroom. Now Parents are Pushing Back,” runs the headline of a recent Wall Street Journal article. In effect, many parents are asking, “Where’s the beef?” Show us the evidence that digital technology improves academic results.
For all the indisputable benefits that technology offers, there may be a downside. Computers, some argue, affect how the brains of young children are wired. Digital devices undermine children’s ability to focus and concentrate, perhaps contributing to the rise in attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. Social media contribute to social isolation and create new platforms for bullying.
Writes the WSJ:
“Put screens in front of children and they aren’t thinking ‘I can’t wait to do research,’ they’re thinking, ‘Let’s play Candy Crush,’” says Melanie Hempe, a Charlotte, N.C., mother and author of a book for parents who want to limit computer use called “Screen Strong.”
Meaghan Edwards, an Austin-area mother, volunteered to read to her son’s third-grade class last year. After 15 minutes, she says the teacher announced: “It’s free time, you can pull out your iPads until lunch,” she recalls. Ms. Edwards watched while her child played a math game on his school-issued iPad. This year, she’s going to home-school her two sons to avoid the iPads.
Bacon’s bottom line: Almost every advance in technology throughout human history has had an upside and a downside. Splitting the atom created nuclear power… and nuclear weapons. The Internet created communities of interest in which people collaborated for the common good…. and dark corners where racists, jihadists and anyone else who was angry at the world could connect and feed their demons. The dualistic nature of technology likely applies to learning as well.
Technology can be extremely beneficial in ways that are immediately obvious, such as creating rolling study halls for bus-confined Bath County pupils. But it also can be deleterious if it creates a nation of kids with attention deficit disorder and poor impulse control. Unfortunately, negative effects will take time to manifest themselves, and even longer before the relationships between technology, brain development, and behavior are clear enough to develop a consensus about what is happening.
By all means, Virginia should forge ahead integrating technology into the classroom. But we need to do so with eyes wide open, sensitive to potential downsides, and we must continually monitor the results. The General Assembly, in all its wisdom, mandated the teaching of computer skills statewide. Following the law, the Virginia Department of Education is saying, in effect, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
I prefer an evolutionary approach based upon decentralized experimentation, tinkering, feedback, adjustment, and accumulated wisdom. I’m always fearful when the social engineers are in charge. In my observation, top-down mandates rarely deliver the results we hope for.There are currently no comments highlighted.