How are schools using digital technology in the classroom?
The inclusion of digital technologies in education comes as a necessary response to a changing world. Advancement in digital technologies have progressed more quickly than any innovations throughout history, and digital fluency (the competent and effective use of technology, including producing content) is now recognised as an essential skill for students.
Currently, there is a lot of variation in how schools interpret the Ministry of Education’s technology area of The New Zealand Curriculum, which aims to give students opportunities to become digitally capable. Differences occur not only from school to school, but also from classroom to classroom.
How much are children using devices?
Use of digital technologies in the classroom can range from delayed to near-ubiquitous models. This can include primary schools with digital immersion models, and schools with delayed use of digital devices until Year 9.
Some schools provide access to digital devices, while others may have Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. These commonly begin as early as Year 3 or 4 (when children are 7 or 8-years-old), and 1:1 (one device per child) initiatives can be in place from Year 1 (5 or 6-years-old).
Schools may have policies that encourage moderate use of digital devices with or without BYOD policies - for example Ponsonby Primary School has a clear digital policy available to parents, and while they encourage BYOD from Year 3, they are explicit with evidence-based guidelines, that students will use their devices for between an average of 1 to 3 hours per week. Researchers have conversely noted that schools providing devices can have students with frequent use. Many primary schools with BYOD policies report that children will use their devices for up to 2 ½ hours a day, but they have near constant access ‘as a tool.' While some schools have moved to a predominantly digital model, other educational philosophies (including Montessori and Steiner) may have no device use in the primary or even intermediate school years. High schools similarly have a wide interpretation of the curriculum, with varied access to mobile devices and smartphones.
Children can attend primary schools with full digital immersion or access, then move to intermediate and high schools with different philosophies and moderate use.
While the uptake of digital technologies by New Zealand schools has been well intended, recent research findings about the impact that frequent and extended digital device use can have on health, wellbeing and learning outcomes, and the level of consideration given to this when making school policies, have been raised as a concern. Experts are increasingly calling for regulation.
What are children doing on their devices?
Some schools have considered and purposeful policies for the use of devices, in regard to both the amount of screen time and content. For examples of great ICT content, click on 'what's going well with ICT in schools?'
Some schools and programs have clear, considered content, but with digital immersion models from young ages.
In many schools, the use of Google Docs and the gamification of simple tasks like spelling, maths and reading has become a significant part of the curriculum. Certainly there is a place for these platforms within a classroom, but concerns have been raised about the amount and generic way they are being used. For more information on reward-based gaming used in schools click here .
'Digital technologies have the potential to enhance learning, but currently in New Zealand there are only few situations where this is occurring, alongside many situations where devices may be disadvantaging students,' New Zealand Ministry of Education.
While Google Docs is often used to encourage collaboration in the classroom, it has been criticised for contributing to a 'cut and paste' culture of learning, thought to impact on the development of critical thinking, creative processes and more complex writing skills. With the rationale by EdTech companies that Google Classroom makes collaboration easier, authors have pointed out that this can be fantastic for children when they are not in the same physical space. However, students are frequently in the same school, if not classroom. If some opportunities to collaborate can be face to face, it can simplify teaching and learning and improve social skill building (Clement & Miles, 2018).
Google Docs and similar platforms have been praised for encouraging shared learning in class by students who otherwise would not engage or participate. However, Clinical Psychologist Pauline Griffiths points out that this 'feeds the avoidance behaviours' of socially withdrawn or avoidant children/adolescents. She notes a relationship between online communication and increasing social anxiety and phobias in vulnerable young people. She recommends looking at teaching methods that encourage participation and support social development for shy or socially avoidant children.
There is potential for technology to enhance creativity when used above and beyond traditional teaching methods. For examples see 'what's going well with technology in schools.'
Creativity can be restricted however, when it is limited to working within the confines of an app, where someone else has been the creator. Considering whether children are producing or consuming, and whether the technology is adding to above and beyond what could be achieved without it, are important considerations.
Digital technology can allow new experiences in sharing, and sharing can potentially involve class to class communication with a school across the globe, in real time. Sharing learning can be a great way for families to connect with their child's learning, and for the child to reinforce their own learning. However, what is considered appropriate sharing differs between schools.
Some schools share student information and examples of learning online for anyone to access. Others give no homework except a reader and the task to verbally share with a member of the family or close community, what the child has learned during that day. This practice aligns with research showing that oral language improves with practice, and impacts on the development of later literacy.
Class blogging has both pros and cons. Benefits may include continued writing out of school time, sharing learning and interacting with other students. More popular students can experience the reinforcing process of comments and likes for their work, but for the less popular, not receiving the frequency of comments can be anxiety-provoking.
Sharing platforms with parents have been heralded as a way for families to be involved in their child's learning. This may be an excellent option for some families, however, others do not access them. A recent survey found that only 30% of families from one high decile primary school were accessing online classroom portals, and additionally around 30% read school newsletters online, with the remaining preferring print options. Being familiar with what communities prefer and even offering both online and analog formats could maximise family involvement.
References not included in hyperlinks:
Clement & Miles, (2018). Screen schooled: Two veteran teachers expose how technology overuse is making our kids dumber. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press Incorporated.