Last Tuesday’s New York Times had an article on the downside of taking notes on a laptop. The piece, Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting, was written by University of Michigan Professor Susan Dynarski who bans electronic devices in her classroom. Dynarski cites research from Princeton, UCLA and a few other schools where students who were allowed to take notes electronically performed worse than students who took notes with a pen and paper.
A follow-up post on The Verge yesterday gave a great summary of the article. I especially liked the conclusion:
Writing things by hand is becoming less common as gadgets and speech recognition software continue to replace pen and paper, but it’s long proven that handwriting improves motor skills, memory, and creativity. So even though note taking with a laptop might be faster, you might want to think about how much information you’re retaining.
My final thoughts on this center around the idea that we need to take away the opportunity for the individual to make the choice on which method works best. As students get to the later stages of high school and move on to college, shouldn’t they have the chance to choose the tool that works best for them? If people become aware that their productivity drops when they take notes on a device, will they still choose to work in the same manner? Isn’t the process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t a critical part of the learning process?
I can’t help thinking about the Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment developed by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). This framework includes “students’ self-evaluation and reflection on process and product integrated into the learning process and contributing to students’ continued growth.”
In short, we need to be careful that banning is not our default reaction. We will teach students a great deal if we help them be more introspective about what works best for them.
In a recent post, I shared some excerpts from The Atlantic article titled Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? While my answer to the question would be no, I do think that we need to set clear boundaries with our children regarding their online habits. My feeling is that too many parents (myself included) do not model device use well. In addition, there is no discussion and/or game plan for the use of devices by their kids.
As we head towards the start of a new school year, it is a perfect time for families to find some balance in their technology use. Research conducted by Common Sense Media shows the following:
On any given day, parents of American tweens and teens average more than nine hours with screen media each day. Eighty-two percent of that time (almost eight hours) is devoted to personal screen media activities such as watching TV, social networking, and video gaming, with the rest used for work.
Common Sense Media also provides some great resources for families to help them construct a plan to gain some control over the time they spend online. Here are a few recommendations from a post on the downsides of multitasking:
Keep your kids on task. Limit them to one screen and one activity at a time (especially when they’re doing schoolwork), and reward them for sticking to it.
Model balanced media habits. Show your kid how you want him to use media by practicing what you preach. That includes not interrupting conversations with technology.
Co-view or co-play. Ask your kid to show you what she’s watching and playing. Sharing and explaining something challenges kids to think more deeply.
Establish media-free times and zones. Explain that at certain times of the day and in certain places in the house, media is not welcome. Use those times and places to focus on one thing. Kids need time away from stimuli to help them learn to focus.
Help your kid increase his ability to concentrate. Whatever activity she’s engaged in, encourage her to think or focus for one more minute.
If you are an adult who thinks that he or she can multitask, I encourage you to check out the Infomagical Bootcamp from the folks at the Note to Self podcast. I wrote about this back at the beginning of 2016 and came away a huge proponent of single-tasking. If there is only one part of this challenge that you try, make it the single-task challenge. It’s the day-one challenge and you can hear the 11-minute overview here.
The exact route you take to ensuring a healthy balance for you and your family does not really matter. The most important thing is that your family is having face-to-face conversations about the role technology is playing in your lives. By the way, when you and the people you live with are all home together, do you spend more time communicating with people online or communicating face-to-face with the people you live with? Just wondering…
A couple of posts back
I discussed the importance of school and district leaders taking an active role in facilitating discussions around the topic of students and digital devices. The reason for this is that the endless number of articles that have been written citing the dangers of device usage can create fear for parents who are playing catch up with the idea of ubiquitous technology. The two most common topics for these anxiety-provoking articles are the dangers students of connecting with strangers online and students being exposed to too much screen time during the day.
Fortunately, there are experts who have been dealing with this topic extensively who can give us concrete research on how much of this worry is misguided. In my estimation, the most valuable resource for school leaders involved in these discussions in their communities is Danah Boyd
and her study surrounding the online activities and behavior of students. Boyd, who has been looking at this topic for over a decade published a brief article in the New York Times
last week titled Blame Society, Not The Screen Time.
Boyd puts the extensive use of technology in our society into proper perspective with the following statement:
“Even though multiple generations have grown up glued to the flickering light of TV, we still can’t let go of the belief that the next generation of technology is going to doom our kids. We blame technology, rather than work, to understand why children engage with screens in the first place.”
One of Boyd’s major points in regards to causation of the need for students to lose themselves in the digital world is the fact that they are over-scheduled and have little time to decompress due to their hectic lives. “We’re raising our students in captivity and they turn to technology to socialize, learn and decompress,” Boyd noted. “Why are we blaming the screens?”
If people want to discuss how and why teens do what they do online and have a clear understanding of this activity, they must start by reading It’s Complicated
, a book written by Boyd after seven years of research which included interviews of over 150 teenagers. It is misleading to toss out personal opinions and paint an ominous picture about on-line activity based on a few observations of teenagers or a few headlines. A look at Boyd’s work helps paint a much clearer picture of what our students are doing and why they are doing it. A faculty or community read of the book may also foster conversations between students and adults and help others realize a point that Boyd shared in her preface to It’s Complicated. “I recognized that teens’ voices rarely shaped the public discourse surrounding their networked lives.”
We who consider ourselves educational leaders who value student voice have the power to help our students be understood on this critical topic.
With most school leaders looking to add more web-enabled devices to their schools and classrooms, they are all but certain to get questions from parents within these communities who will raise concerns about the fact that their students will be dealing with more screen time in their day. While some may be quick to respond that we are just setting up environments for students to replicate the realities of the gadget-driven workplaces that our students will soon be inhabiting, it is important to take some time and have community-wide discussions about the topic of screen time. These conversations can help reduce anxiety for parents who see their children inhabiting classrooms that have technological resources quite different than what they experienced.
Increased conversations will help parents put into perspective alarming headlines that come out regarding the negative consequences of using electronics. Sometimes the most important takeaways from these headlines can be found well down the page, a place many do not see. One such headline appeared this past week in a New York Times article by Jane E. Brody titled Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children. While I am sure the headline is accurate in regards to the state of children and their time spent on devices, a passing glance at the story and the first three paragraphs of the article only gives enough information to scare people away from device use.
Therefore in my third paragraph, I will introduce my two biggest takeaways and bullet them below:
- This is not a new problem: Television remains the dominant medium.
- According to a Kaiser Foundation study, many parents seem to have few rules about use of media by their children and adolescents.
These bullets tell me that the most meaningful intervention we can make as school leaders is to offer support to parents to assist them in navigating the overwhelming new world of parenting in the digital age. This is not an area where parents can look back at how they were parented for experience: they are traveling this course with no roadmap. We need to bring parents together and let them share their successes, failures, and fears of parenting digital natives. While there is a great deal more to discuss on this topic, it is critical that school communities share openly about the pros and cons of students being able to connect anywhere, anytime. My recommendation would be quarterly parent forums on topics surrounding digital tools where parents have an opportunity to learn and share. In Burlington, our educational technology team runs multiple Parent Technology Nights throughout the course of the school year to foster these important conversations.
Access to new technologies is far from a panacea, but it is also does not need to be viewed as the demise of our future generations. The best advice I have on figuring out the delicate balance in regards to screen-time for our children comes from my friend Beth Holland. I shared Beth’s three simple questions that should be asked before deciding whether a child needs to be in front of a device in a post I wrote titled A Great Conversation on the Technology Concerns of Parents Regarding 1:1.
The three questions are as follows:
- Is it appropriate?
- Is it meaningful?
- Is it empowering?
If we can get our students to ask these same questions before they decide to bury their faces in a screen, we will be on the right track!