A couple of announcements this week point to a growing role for massively open online courses in K-12. The Saylor Foundation, the most interesting nonprofit in open education that no one seems to have heard of, launched a program of Common-Core aligned K-12 courses. And Lumen Learning, David Wiley’s startup which I wrote about earlier in the blog, likewise released a set of new “course frameworks”–these appear to be aimed at the community college level, but Lumen also consults with school districts on the adoption of open resources.
Three things are encouraging about the way MOOCs are being defined in K-12 at least if we go by these two announcements.
One is that the resources in each case are truly open–Creative Commons licensed, totally free to adapt, share, remix and reuse.
The second is that they are carefully pulled together and curated. Saylor notes, “[K-12 content development manager Angelyn] Pinter leads a team of 18 course designers (who are experienced educators), an editor, and members of a content development team. K-12 courses will undergo the same rigorous vetting and peer review process that Saylor.org developed alongside its existing 280+ college-level and professional courses.”
And the third encouraging aspect of this development is that these MOOCs are clearly being framed as tools for educators, not wholesale replacements for educators. The Lumen “course frameworks” amount to curated collections of open resources from around the web that serve as a blueprint that, equally, learners or teachers can follow. The Saylor courses are pitched, per the press release, for adoption by students or parents who want to go beyond what their schools offer, but equally by teachers and entire schools that want fresh collections of Common Core-aligned multimedia lessons to use.
At least in the smarter conversations amongst people who have been thinking about this for awhile, we’re moving quickly away from the assumption that MOOCs are going to entirely replace the classroom experience for any but a small fraction of potential learners. It’s equally clear that they will completely change that classroom experience. If I had a child in grade school right now I would definitely want a self-guided MOOC to be one part of their educational explorations, and I would also want their teachers to take advantage of open learning resources in their own “flipped classrooms.”
A music lesson in Virani’s classroom
When Neil Virani walked into his middle school special education classroom at Mulholland Middle School, part of the LA Unified School district, three years ago, he encountered a roomful of students with a range of cognitive, emotional and physical challenges. But the most toxic problem they had to combat was the low expectations from the school system they’d been in since kindergarten. “All they had was coloring books and watercolors. They were not working on any academic aspects of the curriculum,” he says. “When I saw a [previous] teacher had written of a student, “they don’t require ELA writing instruction because they’re never going to manipulate a writing device,’ I said, before I met him, this kid is going to write.”
Today, not only are most of his students reading and discussing stories, producing sophisticated written essays, and scoring proficient in math, they are drawing mind maps to organize their thoughts, building catapults in class to demonstrate physics principles learned from the game Angry Birds, and shooting and editing video documentaries of their experiences, which they storyboard in advance with cartoons. Virani’s secret weapon of accessibility, besides his own award-winning combination of creativity and the “highest possible realistic expectations,” is the iPad and a wide range of apps.
In at least one case, a $500 iPad, with its intuitive swipe interface and pop-up onscreen keyboard, is replacing a $15,000 assistive technology setup for a student with control over only one finger. “He had a special chair so he can hold his arm in a certain position–a custom chair that cost a fortune. It’s useless now. He’d try to type on the keyboard, get the cursor in the right place, and he’d have an involuntary muscle movement and erase it all. He’d cry, he was so frustrated. In one hour from opening the iPad, he wrote his name [for the first time].”
One thing that all education could potentially learn from special ed is that every student is an individual who deserves individually crafted learning goals and paths to reach them. Virani’s approach to teaching with the iPad is remarkable not only for its emphasis on inclusion but his use of apps to enhance students’ self expression–what I’d call “technology for learners.” A small sampling of his favorite apps include Day One for journaling, Popplet for mindmapping, and Toontastic for animation and storyboarding. He also uses Aver’s document camera software to enable his students to record lessons, play them back, or share the teacher’s screen in class. His students regularly come up with their own suggestions for apps or provide tutorials in their use to other students in regular and gifted classes.
But more important than the technology itself, Virani says, is the power of an open-ended and accessible device to expand students’ sense of themselves, and to raise the expectations of everyone around them.
“It’s been so powerful in our classroom,” he says. “It’s changed their whole thinking. They believe in themselves; they can do what anyone else can do. “
Justin Reich, a history teacher and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center who writes the “EdTechResearcher” blog for Education Week, is one of the smartest critical thinkers out there on education and technology, and I’m proud to call him a friend as well. Last week he gave a talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center that intersects with many of the issues I’ve been covering on this blog, and asks some important questions.
Technology, says Reich, definitely has the capability to “Tremendously expand human potential and achievement,” but at the same time, it’s often “taking very old and very tired ideas and putting them in shiny new form factors.” And he himself often can’t tell which is which. But he keeps three principles in mind to help him understand the difference:
1) Students learn just as much from who educators are as from anything we teach them. There is as much meaning embedded in the architecture, grammar, systems, and roles of schooling as in anything that moves through them. (I would say this applies in the family even more so; children learn much more from who parents are than from anything they say).
2) When faced with any shiny new innovation, it’s always important to ask: what’s really new here?
3) Finally, when seizing on the new, is it possible to think through the second and third-order consequences of our decisions? What are the potential unintended consequences?
Reich made the distinction between “blended learning” and “connected learning,” which is somewhat similar to what I talked about as the distinction between “technology for education” and “technology for learners.” If traditional education is often disparaged as a factory model, blended learning can amount to little more than giving each student his or her own personal assembly line. They can move at their own pace through material that matches their needs at the moment, but the steps in the chain are predetermined.
Assuming that we don’t have the money to give each student his or her own real live tutor, blended learning offers undisputed advantages.
The irony is that “personalization” means in this context that millions of students in blended learning programs are consuming content created by one “rock star” teacher or team of teachers (Sal Khan, say), with whom they have very little actual contact.
This kind of personalization reminds me of a podcast I recently listened to on the forecasting of colors. Big brands make decisions at least a year in advance, based on global trends, about what shades and styles we will be wearing and putting in our houses, but they are sure to include just enough variation that people feel able to express their individuality by picking and choosing from the limited menu on offer. That is what freedom looks like under capitalism.
The unintended consequence, in both cases, is the same. Blended learning treats students like consumers who want what they want when they want it. It’s aligned with a political idea that goes back to Milton Friedman, that funding for schools should be “unbundled” into a voucher or even microvoucher system, where a “giant backpack of cash” follows students to whatever educational vendor they choose for any subject.
This kind of model, when taken to an extreme, Reich suggests, could destroy the civic and community function of schools. Instead of diverse students connecting and collaborating on creative projects you have isolated individuals plugged into laptops. It also fades the actual classroom teacher into secondary roles of tech support or troubleshooter or at best, “pastoral” counselor, coach, guide or motivator.
I would add that by fetishizing individual student choice, the obsession with personalization creates a new kind of divide between students who know enough and have enough support to be self-motivated learners, and those who may need more guidance than they’re getting in order to make the best choices.
I think these are great questions to raise. I also think the dichotomy Reich is drawing — for necessary rhetorical reasons, perhaps–is too sharp. There may be more synergies available between connected and blended learning approaches than it at first seems. The distinction reminds me of the recent controversy over Marissa Meyer’s canceling of work-from-home agreements for some Yahoo employees. Research shows that working from home raises individuals’ productivity, flexibility and sometimes job satisfaction, but working with others in an office–and outside the office, engaging with competitors, clients, and the public–is key for innovation and creativity. So is it better to allow telecommuting or make everyone come into the office? It all depends. People need both inward-directed and outward-directed modes.
At its best, blended learning allows for a flipped classroom, balancing individualized learning and practice time with highly engaged project-based learning. You can see a similar educational approach taken by many homeschooling families who use science fairs, sports teams, arts camps, and other activities to balance the self-directed, highly individualized learning they’re doing at home. The two modes are, at their best, complementary.
The political implications of blended learning are more fraught, if they’re tied to a push to increase class sizes and defund public schools in favor of for-profit vendors. But I don’t see tech companies and teachers, or blended and connected learning, as natural enemies.
While they have their critics, KIPP has among the best reputation of all charter school networks. There are over 40,000 KIPP students nationwide, which is expected to grow to 60,000 by 2015. Over 90 percent of 8th graders consistently outperform their public-school counterparts in reading and math. KIPP alumni, according to a recent report, are graduating college at rates four times higher than comparable populations. Cofounders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin are in demand to keynote education conferences and speak to the media.
On the occasion of the publication of KIPP’s annual report, I used it as a snapshot of the approach taken by one high-functioning organization when it comes to K-12 schools and technology.
- Data, data, data. The numbers cited above, and many more for pages throughout the report, are a part of the most pervasive, yet subtle use of technology for an organization like KIPP: to constantly track dozens of factors relating to student performance and success. They are following individual students through their schools, and all the way through the end of college, which has not historically been standard practice or even feasible for most public school systems. Their data portal, open only to employees and parents, is located here. Data is the basis for all claims about student success made to donors and the public, but data is also, of course, open to interpretation.
- Tools for teachers. The first mention of technology in the annual report is not for students–it’s for teachers. KIPP teachers have an online social network powered by BetterLesson (which offers similar services to any teacher) that allows them to collaborate and share resources, advice, support, or even entire lesson plans. About half a million pieces of content have been shared over the network. Teachers in different regions are able to collaborate using technology–for example, a teacher in California and one in Colorado are working to redesign a 6th-grade math curriculum.
- In the classroom. One small box, on p. 29, gives an overview of the technology used in the classroom at some KIPP schools. “Innovative instructional technology in the classroom to enhance and personalize student learning. Throughout the day, teachers are able to work with small groups…while other students engage in self-paced, online learning on classroom laptops…teachers have access to richer, more real-time data.”
These mentions are more notable for what they leave out. There isn’t a 1-to-1 computing program. There aren’t tablets or mobile devices. There aren’t any hard numbers about technology use. There’s no mention of using technology to strengthen connections between home and school. There isn’t a mention of specific companies or networks that KIPP may work with to provide the learning software used in classrooms. Amidst all the numbers, there aren’t specifics about the data provided by learning software and how it is used. For teachers, there’s a closed, proprietary social network, rather than, for example, encouraging them to connect on Twitter, blogs and wikis as many innovative teachers do in the public school world. There isn’t any mention of a maker approach to technology, that would introduce kids to programming or otherwise working with the open web.
Is KIPP right to take this minimal approach to technology? Does this actually represent best practice, with the focus on teaching and students front and center, or does the back-burner approach to technology and innovation keep the schools from being as effective as they could be?
Annie Murphy Paul has an excellent article in Slate and this publication this week about the issue of digital distraction while learning. A recently published study by psychologist Larry Rosen found that in a short 15-minute period of observation, teenagers spent only 65 percent of their time studying. Their attention drifted after an average of 2 minutes from reading and writing their assignments to activities like Facebook, texting and instant messaging–and all this was while they knew they were being watched.
Digital distraction or multitasking is a modern scourge, not just for young people. Both we and our children are spending too much of our days drifting through a haze of ones and zeroes, eyes squinting at tiny screens as we zombie-stumble down the sidewalk, one earbud in, chat windows popping up, starting a work task and finding ourselves at the bottom of the Twitter feed four hours later, in what I like to call a “procrastination shame spiral.”
The question is what to do about it. Education is about giving children the skills to cope with life, and we owe it to them to be thoughtful about how we do that. The way I see it, in the educational setting there are three very different approaches to conquering distraction: control by authority, control through technology, and self-control. And these approaches have very different consequences.
Control by authority means putting the teacher and school in charge of students’ access to technology: banning cellphones in school, instituting “screens down” policies, and enlisting teachers to police students’ behavior from moment to moment. “I’ve requested mirrors for the walls of my classroom so that I can see who is IM-ing whom,” wrote one high school teacher. The drawbacks of these policies are obvious. They drive students to rebel, they are ham-fisted, resource-intensive, and all too easy to countermand. They imply that technology is not a trusted partner in the educational process, but a grudgingly tolerated one.
Control through technology means designing tools to nudge students in the direction of desired use. For example, an iPad can be set to run just one application at a time. The new Amplify classroom tablet features an “eyes on teacher” icon. When the teacher hits the icon on her machine, every tablet in the room goes offline, stops what it’s doing, and a message pops up to look at the teacher. Freedom is a $10 application that’s been downloaded 300,000 times. It disables your Internet for a fixed period of time, up to eight hours.
Control through technology, in a broader sense, also means making educational applications engaging enough that students, choose them over other video games or activities. It means analytics that can tell when a student’s attention is wandering, user interfaces that deliver gentle reminders, feedback loops like timers, scoreboards, or musical cues to help students focus and stay on task. It means harnessing students’ love of social networks or photosharing sites for educational and expressive purposes.
And what about self-control? This is the ultimate goal. We all want to help our students, just as we ourselves want to, become self-motivated, self-aware and emotionally intelligent enough to impose their own “Odysseus at the mast” solutions to digital distraction. We can give students a productivity toolbox with strategies like goalsetting, to-do lists, getting an accountability buddy, or taking timed “tech breaks” to help build up their ability to focus. It may make sense to scaffold students temporarily in the fight against digital distraction with control by authority, and to aid them with control through technology, but ultimately it has to be up to them or they won’t learn much.
Scott Beale/Laughing Squid
Laura Vanderkam, a bestselling career and business author, has just written Blended Learning: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Supporting Tech-Assisted Teaching. Published by the Philanthropy Roundtable, the short book is intended as a guide for potential donors. Its publication is a sign of the times, showing the strong and growing interest by philanthropists in supporting technology in schools.
I asked Vanderkam for some of her wisdom. Here’s a Q&A.
In traditional education, the feedback loop is sluggish. Kids only find out days later how they did on tests (because grading them is so laborious for teachers), and then they seldom get a chance to go back and learn from their mistakes. Contrast this to a video game, where you can see instantly if you didn’t do something right. When you have adaptive software, tailored right to a child’s level, he’ll master skills as the program tells him what he did right and wrong, and gives him a chance to practice the skills he needs help with. Plus, teachers can see instantly if children understood a lesson or not.
One major upside with blended learning is that there’s a lot less grading. But beyond that, one of the key drivers of happiness at work is a sense of making progress. Data from ed tech programs can show instantly if your kids understood a lesson or not.
The New York Times last week ran an irresistible profile of Sylvia Todd, a ten-year-old who produces and stars in a YouTube show that features herself doing all kinds of science and DIY projects. She’s received over 1.5 million views and collaborated with Make magazine, with companies that make science kits for kids, and to speak to teachers; she even presented at the White House Science Fair and met President Obama.
Sylvia’s Maker Show is an example of what two education researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rich Halverson and Benjamin Shapiro, call “technologies for learners”–as opposed to “technologies for education.”
“Technologies for education assume that the goals (or outcomes) of teaching and learning are stable, and that the challenge of technological innovation is to fashion efficient, viable, and successful means to reach these goals,” they write. This is a process-based model of innovation, where the goal is to make widgets faster, cheaper, and higher-quality. Examples of technologies for education would include adaptive learning software, computerized assessments, and student information and data management systems.
“Technologies for learners, on the other hand, are designed to support the needs, goals, and styles of individuals.” Learners like Todd use online multimedia production and social media to pursue their own interests, express themselves, and connect with others to exchange knowledge. This is what the DML Research Hub calls “connected learning,” and it mostly happens out of school–in Sylvia’s case, at home with her father in her spare time.
It’s no accident that technologies for learners thrive out of school. The authors note that the data-driven “accountability” rhetoric so dominant in education reform both is part of, and compels the spread of, technologies for education. But since the benefits of self-directed, creative, and project-based learning don’t necessarily show up on standardized test scores, accountability pushes schools away from technologies for learners. The authors suggest a research agenda that can start to provide evidence for the greater adoption of technologies for learners within schools.
I would go farther than Halverson and Shapiro to suggest that the hierarchical organization of school itself–the history of which goes back much farther than the accountability movement–makes it hard to open up and let student-driven learning into the system. I think it’s also fair to say that some of the goals and outcomes of school–for example, making sure everyone can read, write, and do arithmetic–are stable, while others are changing, and so it’s appropriate to adopt some technologies for education as well as technologies for learners. But I still think it’s a very useful distinction to draw.
I recently heard Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth speak about her research at the filming of a TED/PBS TV special all about education, which airs May 7. Duckworth is the University of Pennsylvania psychologist credited with the discovery of ”grit”–a cluster of so-called non-cognitive skills, including tenacity and perseverance, that may be even more essential to academic achievement than what we used to think of as the innate components of intelligence, such as IQ.
Duckworth first came across this notion while teaching 7th-grade math, when she noticed that some of her strongest performers weren’t necessarily the smartest kids, and some of the smartest kids weren’t necessarily doing that well.
“I was firmly convinced that every one of my students could learn, if they worked hard and long enough,” she said. “ I came to the conclusion that what we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational and psychological perspective.”
Duckworth’s career has moved quickly–she’s developed a “character report card” for the KIPP charter school chain and been centrally featured in Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed. But she freely admitted two points to me: first, that the definition of “grit” is more or less circular at this point–people who have the quality of sticking to things are the ones who stick to things–and secondly, that we don’t necessarily know anything yet about the best ways to promote these qualities in individuals.
But we already know that character, persistence, and motivation are extremely important to students’ learning and success in life. And that’s enough to try to include these qualities in any technological interventions we do in classrooms. All the more so because technologically enabled, student-centered and student-driven learning seems to require an extra degree of self-motivation in order for students to do well.
The US Department of Education recently issued a report on this very topic. While acknowledging that grit and perseverance are difficult to define and difficult to measure, they discussed several types of real-world interventions being done inside, outside, before and after school to promote these qualities.
Among these, technological approaches included digital learning environments, online resources, simulations, and games.
“New and emerging technologies can provide opportunities for optimal challenge through adaptivity, promote academic mindsets, teach learning strategies, promote the development of effortful control, and provide motivating environments,” the authors summarized.
Optimal challenge, in particular, is a central quality driving motivation: a task that is neither too boring nor too frustrating helps you stay on task.
Some of these tech tools and applications attempt to teach strategies like mindfulness (including meditation), metacognition (knowing about knowing), and growth mindset (the belief that one can change one’s own abilities by working harder.) Other learning environments attempt to measure these qualities by seeing how long students spent on task, how many times they attempted to answer a question before giving up , and other such metrics. Some researchers are even using facial recognition and biofeedback sensors to measure students’ reactions during a learning session and try to determine if they are getting frustrated or are absorbed in what they are doing.
If you are interested in measuring your own non-cognitive skills with an online tool, here is Dr. Duckworth’s 8-question grit quiz.
Hanna Rosin’s cover story, “The Touch Screen Generation,” in The Atlantic magazine last month, addressed a common dilemma. The American Academy of Pediatrics, as I noted earlier, recommends no screen time at all for children under age two, yet 90 percent of parents with children that age admit letting their kids watch TV and use mobile devices. Rosin counts herself among them, one of the “American parents who are clearly never going to meet the academy’s ideals, and at some level do not want to” — who hope, instead, that electronic media might even be helpful and educational, when used in the right ways.
Content, Context and Your Child
There may be some evidence for taking the less hardline view when it comes to toddlers and technology. Rosin’s article approvingly cites Lisa Guernsey, the author of what is still the most comprehensive book on this subject, recently re-released as Screen Time: How Electronic Media From Baby Videos to Educational Software Affects Your Young Child. I recently caught up with Guernsey to talk about what peer reviewed research really says about the possible upsides of screentime for young children.
Her first point is that the sheer quantity of screentime might not be the right factor to focus on. Instead, she recommends looking at the three Cs: Content, Context and Your Child.
Content, she says, must be age-appropriate and developmentally tested. “If something’s put into a TV show or an online game that we as adults think is incredibly obvious, it may not be obvious to young children.” For example, research suggests characters should point to an object when introducing a new word, or in the case of a verb, they have to exaggerate the action associated with the word for children to get it.
Context has to do with children’s responses to what they are seeing. Do they imitate the actions shown on screen or in the game? Do they ask questions? Can their interest in, say, a science game be transferred to working with a real science kit?
And the third C, Child, has to do with your particular child’s personality. Is the exposure to games or apps making him more anxious or withdrawn, or is she blossoming in discovering a new skill and following her curiosity?
These guidelines are subjective, Guernsey acknowledges, because the state of peer-reviewed research “is really quite far behind when you think about how ubiquitous touch screen media is in children’s lives.”
Guernsey cites just one study, conducted in 2010 at Georgetown with 2 1/2 to 3 year olds, that indicates that children might learn to imitate a particular action–finding a hidden toy–better from even crudely interactive media (a video where children have to push a button to answer a question in order for it to continue) vs. a passive video, and just as well as they learned from a live, interactive demonstration.
Ideal vs. Real
That’s not to say, cautions Guernsey, that interactive media is always better than TV.
The proliferation of “educational” iPad and iPhone apps, she says, as well as the general buzz around digital natives, digital literacy, and 21st century learning, has shifted how parents view children’s exposure to screen media– from overwhelmingly negative, to much more ambivalent.
“People tend to believe that if my kids are interacting, they’re getting something out of it, versus if they’re just watching they’re not,” she says. But the research doesn’t bear that out. “Some so-called “passive” screen media may be designed much better than some interactive media.”
Then there’s the not so little fact that children are drawn to electronic media in a way that provides parents some much-needed moments of respite–to take a shower, or to eat a meal in a restaurant without bothering everyone around them and having to leave. “I’m very cognizant of the stresses in parents’ lives today, and came to believe we shouldn’t be beating ourselves up and feeling horribly guilty about those moments when we do need to rely on it to get something done.”
One distinction that I intuitively think is important, that Guernsey doesn’t draw, is between apps that follow a predetermined script or path, and tools that allow for free play.
Many electronic games, “educational” and otherwise, have set right or wrong answers, with rewards and punishments along the way. They may be good for memorizing letters, numbers, or colors, but they don’t necessarily promote real engaged learning.
But when you let toddlers play with the camera on a smartphone, or the voice recorder, or a piano, or a virtual drawing palette–or for that matter, video chat with a friend or relative–their interaction can be anything they want it to be. There’s no right or wrong. It’s turning the phone into an open-ended toy for free expression.
The same is true of a lot of the apps coming from the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten group, like Scratch, an animation platform that actually teaches coding, and from the Mozilla Webmaker initiative. There’s an emerging sense in the tech world that children’s interaction with technology should not be “read-only”, but that they should experience how digital tools enable creativity.
Because of a family vacation next week, I’m looking for some iPad apps in hopes of keeping my 16-month-old daughter entertained on the long flights. So far she’s shown very little interest in screens of any kind. I tried to sit her down to watch “Wonder Pets“ the other day for a break when she had a cold, and after five minutes, she saw a ball on screen. She said “Ball!” climbed off my lap, and went to fetch her real ball.
The issue of toddlers’ use of technology is back in the news with a widely shared article that ran this week in the UK Telegraph. Apparently the founder of the first “technology addiction” program in the country is treating a four-year-old girl for iPad addiction.
“Her parents enrolled her for compulsive behaviour therapy after she became increasingly “distressed and inconsolable” when the iPad was taken away from her.
Her use of the device had escalated over the course of a year and she had become addicted to using it up for to four hours a day.”
Of course, just as in the case of the Sumatran smoking 2-year-old, it’s tempting to tie this “addiction” to parental misbehavior. But there’s a profound ambivalence in the culture at this moment about our own relationship to ubiquitous interactive technology, and it naturally plays out in parenting dramas as well.
This post will look at the downsides and dangers of technology use by very young children. Thursday’s post will look at the positive sides, or at least mitigating factors, in trying to forge a better relationship with the screens all around us.
Almon’s group of professional therapists, pediatricians and educators starts with the premise that something, in fact, is ailing America’s children–almost a syndrome, or at any rate, a characteristic malaise. She points out that since the 80s, there’s been startling increases in food allergies, asthma, obesity, autism spectrum disorders, hyperactivity, and serious psychological and behavioral disorders among very young children.
Immersion in electronic media–not even the favorite bogeyman, violent video games–cannot be faulted directly for any of these problems, though research is ongoing. But, Almon says, “high levels–we’re not talking abut small doses, but high levels of screentime–interfere with a lot of things that should be taking place in children’s lives.” Her research indicates that two thirds of babies between one and two years old are watching TVs for over two hours a day (the official American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation is zero), and that estimates of preschoolers’ screen-based media time range from 2.2 to 4.6 hours per day. With those kinds of numbers, first of all, the “addicted” UK girl doesn’t look like such an outlier anymore. And, considering that a child of those ages is only awake 10 to 12 hours a day, it’s easy to understand how this much screen time might be displacing a child’s loving interaction with caregivers, free playtime, 0r playing outside.
One compelling piece of anecdotal evidence Almon cites is reports from occupational therapists who are being called in to work with otherwise developmentally normal school-age children who lack the “hand skills” to hold a pencil properly, or tie their shoes. This raises concerns about the future workforce, although iPad apps, ironically, are also being used to help children develop hand and finger control and communicate more freely.
The 3-D world
Almon calls the promotion of computers in education, especially early childhood education, “a boondoggle.” Yes, tech engages children, but, she says, “Children are enthusiastic about drinking Coke and eating chocolate cake. That doesn’t mean we let them do it all the time. We’ve not exercised that moderation with technology. We’ve believed it’s the more the better, and there’s really no evidence to show that.” To concerns about modernizing education, she says, “If you look at great people in the technology field, like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, they didn’t start working with computers until they were 12 or older.”
There’s a class issue at work here too. The main reason my child has so little screentime is because my husband and I work flexible schedules, leaving us plenty of time to engage with her, and can afford high quality childcare–something that is in shockingly short supply nationwide.
So the question becomes, not so much how is technology damaging young children’s brains, but what are we missing or seeking to replace with the screen as an easy fix?
“What they learn in 3D space about themselves, their own bodies and the world around them, a lot of that learning does not seem to take place with a flat screen.”