How are schools using digital technology in the classroom?
Currently, there is a lot of variation in how schools are preparing for and interpreting the Ministry of Education’s digital curriculum that is to be in place by 2020. This varies from school to school, and also from classroom to classroom.
How much are children using devices?
Some schools are going for total digital immersion and moving towards a paperless model, with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies commonly from Year 3 or 4, and even 1:1 (one device per child) iPad initiatives from Year 1. Others share devices between children and have very moderate use. Some schools combine both approaches – 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. 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 schools has been well intended, recent research findings about the impact that device use can have on health and development, and the level of consideration given to this when making school policies, have been raised as a concern by some experts in child health and education. Interestingly, there is education literature that suggests that digital technology is so important that the need to become digitally literate should come before the health risks that are associated with its use. See 'In a digital world" for further information.
With evidence showing that moderate computer use is the most effective for improving educational outcomes and digital literacy, this rather mutually exclusive approach seems unnecessary.
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 full digital immersion or near constant device access 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 .
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 could be fantastic for children who live great distances from one another. However, students are frequently in the same school, if not classroom. True collaboration is done face to face because it simplifies teaching and learning, and improves 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 learning. 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.
An interesting topic in education is sharing. 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 their students's first name, photograph, room number 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.
Social media is used by some schools as a learning platform in NZ, even from Year 5 (around 9 years old). Despite these platforms generally being barred for under 13's for developmental reasons, proponents say the use is both engaging and inevitable. This ignores recent research showing that young people are increasingly quitting social media due to a negative impact on their quality of life. England's Chief Medical Officer is currently drawing up guidelines for social media use in young people, because of the harmful impact of heavy use on mental health. Perhaps we need to consider the culture that schools are helping to create, and how this impacts on well-being. Does this process impact positively for all children or only certain groups? While the familiar line that the 'rest of the community is very happy' has been touted, parents none-the-less have vocalised their concern in the media.
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.