Top 7 Ways Technology Stifles Student Learning in My Classroom

Written by Steven Singer

As a middle school teacher, I have real concerns about the ways technology is used in the classroom and the effects it’s having on students.

That does not make me a technophobe.

I use technology in my everyday life and in many ways find it indispensable.

However, that does not mean I embrace all uses of technology just as criticizing some forms does not mean I think we should get rid of them all.

But after 17 years of teaching, I have legitimate concerns about what all this technology is doing to our students and our schools.

I have seen technologies come and go. Some – like a computerized grade book – have been extremely helpful, and I would not want to have to do my job without them.

Others have fallen by the wayside, been discontinued or proven a waste of time or even worse – they’ve become impediments rather than assistants to student learning.

In general, I think we have become too reliant on technology in schools. We’ve welcomed and incorporated it without testing it, or even reflecting upon whether it promises to offer better pathways toward student comprehension and discovery or whether it merely offers flash and novelty devoid of substance. And perhaps even more frightening, we have not investigated the ways in which using these technologies actually puts student privacy and intellectual growth at risk.

So, without further ado, here are the top 7 ways technology stifles student learning in my classroom:

1) It Stops Kids from Reading

I’m a language arts teacher. I want my students to read.

I could simply assign readings and hope students do them, but that’s not practical in today’s fast-paced world. When kids are bombarded by untold promises of instant gratification, a ream of paper bordered by cardboard doesn’t hold much of a claim on their attentions.

So like many teachers, I bring reading into the classroom, itself. I usually set aside class time every other day for students to read self-selected books for about 15 minutes. Students have access to the school library and a classroom library filled with books usually popular with kids their age or popular with my previous students. They can pick something from outside these boundaries, but if they haven’t already done so, I have them covered.

In the days before every student had an iPad, this worked fairly well. Students often had books with them they wanted to read or would quickly select one from my collection and give it a try.

Sometimes when there was down time in class, when they had finished assignments or tests early, they would even pick up their self-selected books and read a little.

What a different world it was!

Now that every student has an omnipresent technological device, this has become increasingly impossible. I still set aside 15 minutes, but students often waste the time looking for an eBook online and end up reading just the first chapter or two since they’re free. Others read nothing but the digital equivalent of magazine articles or look up disparate facts. And still others try to hide that they’re not reading at all but playing video games or watching YouTube videos.

Even under the best of circumstances, the act of reading on a device is different than reading a printed page.

The act of reading traditional books is slower, closer and more linear. It’s the way teachers really want kids to read and which will most increase comprehension.

Reading on a screen is a product of social media. We scroll or scan through, seeking specific information and clicking on hyperlinks.

The old style of reading was transformative, absorbing and a much deeper and richer experience. The newer style is more superficial, mechanical and extrinsic. (And, Yes, I’m aware of which style of reading you’re engaged in now!)

To be fair, some students actually prefer reading eBooks on devices and may even experience the richness of the original style. But they are few and far between. Usually students use the devices to escape from the deeper kind of reading because they’ve never really done it before and don’t understand what it really is. And when they have this choice, they may never find out.

2) It’s a Distraction

As a teacher, I want my students to be able to focus on one thing at a time. There are situations and assignments that call for multitasking, but usually we need students to be able to look at text closely, examine an argument, identify figurative language or write creatively, etc. They can’t do that if they’re constantly checking their devices.

We have to admit that iPads, laptops, social media, etc. are addictive. If given the chance, many teenagers will spend hours there. Heck, many adults will, too. It’s common for students to rush through assignments to get back to watching videos about the latest online gaming trend Fortnite, or listen to music with earbuds, or others such things.

Technology is usually associated in their minds with entertainment, not education. I’m not saying that technologies don’t have their place. If you want to look up information quickly, devices are great. But the most common words I tell my students on any given day are “Apples up.” In others words, turn your iPads face down and focus on the lesson at hand.

3) It’s Unhealthy

For most students, technology is not a novelty. It is something with which they already have a lot of experience. Many studies find that kids between the ages of 13-18 spend up to 18 hours a day in front of a screen.

Why are we adding to that in the classroom?

Children need face-to-face interactions. They need to learn social skills, how to communicate with people, not screen avatars. They need time outdoors, time to get up and move around and interact with the world. Heck! They need unstructured time where they actually experience boredom and have to find ways to cope.

We’re robbing them of these skills by giving in to the electronic nanny. And it’s creating children who are less able to survive without that technological crutch.

As technology has become more widespread in my classes, I’ve noticed attention spans decreasing. So has self control, mindfulness and an ability for critical thinking.

4) It Costs Too Much

Public schools are already grossly underfunded. We have to pick and choose the most effective tools to help kids learn. Technology is often very expensive and takes away valuable money and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

And the way these technologies are marketed is often reminiscent of the drug trade. The first uses are free. But if you want to expand, it will cost.

Even those that don’t demand briefcasefulls of cash often recoup their costs by collecting and selling student data.

In the school system, we are privy to an enormous amount of information about the children in our care – information that we are tasked with keeping safe. Ed tech software and technologies also routinely collect data on students. But they are not as constrained or legally responsible for it in the way schools and teachers are.

Some of the data technologies collect is indeed necessary for whatever task they perform – tabulating which questions students get correct and incorrect, etc. However, much of it is unnecessary for those tasks – information about student preferences or marketing information.

We have no guarantee that this data is secure. The FBI has warned schools, parents and students of information breaches at these ed tech companies. And the contracts these companies have with schools and/or users are shady at best. They don’t guarantee your data will be secure, don’t accept liability and even when they do, they routinely warn that their policies can change at any time without warning – especially if they go bankrupt.

These are costs too expensive to pay.

5) It Has Never Been Proven to Help Kids Learn

Educational technologies’ claims about student learning outcomes are based on faith not facts. There are few (if any) long-term, large scale, peer reviewed studies showing that most technologies are effective educational tools.

This is partially because they’re too new to have been around long enough to be adequately tested. Moreover, the field is flooded with “studies” payed for by the same companies or organizations being studied – which is like having McDonald’s tell you the McRib is nutritious. Some small-scale peer reviewed studies have been done, but the results have been inconclusive.

We are literally unleashing these devices and software applications on children without knowing their full effects.

Ed tech is a market-based solution to an academic problem. It is the triumph of big business over pedagogy.

Our children deserve better than this.

6) It Perpetuates Bad Pedagogy and Assessment

Ed tech is almost always organized around standardized testing. It takes the multiple choice test as the ultimate form of assessment and arranges itself around that paradigm.

Software basically teaches to the test. It shows users the kinds of questions that will be asked, how to solve them and then gauges their success by giving them test-based questions.

It’s ironic because the marketing departments of these corporations usually sell this junk as “personalized learning,” “individualized learning,” or “competency” or “proficiency based education.” They want you to think that the program is tailor made to the user when it’s actually just a prepackaged mess. If you can’t answer a question of type A, you don’t get to move on to a question of type B. That’s all.

This can be an effective method for increasing test scores – if students aren’t so tuned out by the experience that they don’t engage with what they’re being presented – which is what I often find with my students when I’ve been forced to subject them to this nonsense.

However, learning how to take a multiple choice test on reading is not the same as learning how to read and understand. It is not the same as interacting with, comprehending and forming an opinion about that reading.

This is not the best way to teach just as having students fill out endless worksheets is not, nor is even having a flesh-and-blood teacher do endless test prep.

It is brainwashing – teaching kids to think like the designers of a test when we should be teaching them how to think for themselves and like themselves.

7) It Undermines Public Schools and Teachers

Ed tech companies are not philanthropies. They are in this business to turn a profit. And the best way to do that is to displace and disrupt the public education system.

There is an entire testing and school privatization industrial complex out there trying to prove that traditional public schools are bad and need replaced with business solutions.

These aren’t just charter schools or private and parochial schools cashing in on vouchers siphoning tax money away from children and into their private pockets. These are ed tech companies, too.

The ultimate goal is to get rid of the very concept of school, itself, and to replace it with on-line cyber schooling that can be accessed anywhere without the need for any living, breathing teachers in the mix. Or at best, they want to reduce the teacher to a mere facilitator. It is the device and the software that teach. It is only the human being’s job to make sure the student is engaging with the technology.

This is not in the best interest of students. It is in the best interests of companies and corporations.

When we give away our responsibilities, our autonomy, and our humanity to these businesses, we are selling out our children.

I’m not saying that all technology is bad or even that it should never be used in the classroom.

But we must approach it with caution and intelligence. We should always know why we’re using it, what end we expect it to have and fully comprehend the consequences.

Otherwise our children will be left to pay for our own shortsightedness.

The article has been taken from gadflyonthewallblog.com with the permission of the author.

Steven Singer is a Language Arts teacher in western Pennsylvania, US. He is Director of the Research and Blogging Committee for the Badass Teachers Association, and is co-founder of the Pennsylvania-based education budget advocacy group T.E.A.C.H. (Tell Everyone All Cuts Hurt). He is also a member of the Education Bloggers Network.

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