Our Blog topic for this week focuses on the never ending debate on technology in the classroom. I emitted a very LARGE sigh when I read this, because I have been knee deep in this debate for a couple of years now. The topic of debate this time, however, is not centered around ”Play vs Tech”, but whether the technology we are using in class is contributing to the deterioration or development of student attention.
In 2012, the PEW Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project released a study titled, How Teens Do Research in the Digital World. This study focused on teenagers and their research habits, but part of the survey asked for teachers’ views towards the broader impact of technology on their students. Out of 2500 teacher, “77% thought that the internet had a ‘mostly positive’ impact on students’ research work”. (Jefferies) Yet, despite this positive impact, “87% felt modern technologies were creating an “easily distracted generation with ‘short attention spans’.” (Jefferies) I confess I did not read the very long study by the PEW Centre, but from what I scanned, I noticed that these teachers were not referring to technology in the classrooms as the reason for the “short attention spans”. Perhaps, just perhaps, the lack of life-tech fit is the reason behind the attention deterioration. (Life-tech fit in my world is the ability to turn off the tech, and go have face to face contact, be in nature, clean the house. It is the ability to “balance” the instant gratification of tweeting, updating, instagramming with the long, drawn out process of being in the moment.)
I look at the technology being used in the classrooms I have access to, and I have to say that I don’t believe it is deteriorating student attention. I see teachers using what we have to help inform students, aid in problem solving, assess knowledge and skills, and learn how to use technology in a respectful manner. In the article, Texting, TV and Tech Trashing Children’s Attention Spans, Ellen Galinsky refers to a teacher (Hope Molina-Porter) interviewed by the New York Times, regarding Ms. Molina-Porter’s altering of her teaching style to keep the attention of her learners. Ms. Galinsky has, in my opinion, the best answer to this perceived attention deterioration and it is “to teach children to pay attention and to be persistent!” In that vein, I see teachers who try to fit technology into their day as a learning tool. These teachers, however, are still doing group projects, arts afternoons, science labs and many more activities where students are learning HOW to pay attention and HOW to regulate themselves so they can persist at a task.
I firmly believe that we, as teachers, need to teach our students how to use this technology responsibly and respectfully. We also have to teach them though, when to turn the technology off, and to collaborate, communicate, create and to push through when things are difficult or challenging. As James P. Steyer said after releasing his organization’s study on children and digital media (Galinsky) “This survey is yet another reminder of how critical it is to consistently guide our kids to make good media choices and balance the amount of time they spend with any media and all of their other activities.”
I suppose this very wordy post needs an answer to the original debate topic. Do I think technology in the classroom will contribute to the deterioration of students attention OR help students attention for learning? After all of my pondering and reading, I think it will help student attention because I believe we will continue to use the technology as a tool fo better understanding, not as a digital behaviour plan or classroom management system.