This weekend (9/28/2018) I had the honor of addressing the Eagle Council in Washington DC about cognitive science’s case for limited technology in the classroom. The Education Panel that I sat on featured wonderful speakers who addressed education from a number of different perspectives. You can see the speeches here. Unfortunately, with so many great speakers, we were all very limited in the amount of time we had to cover our particular topic. What follows is the more extensive talk I was prepared to give. I intend to flesh out these points even more in a series of posts so that our readers will understand what the C suite people in Silicon Valley, who send their own children to non-tech or tech limited schools, seem to already know about why their technology does not actually help children learn.
Cognitive Science’s Case Against Technology in the Classroom
Computers, tablets, smart phones, whiteboards, fit bits…. Technology truly has become ubiquitous. There are 6.2 million iPads being used every day in K-5 classrooms in the U.S. and 9.3 million tablets used in middle and high schoolAll of the devices are interfaces with a digital data river flowing around all of us daily, running everything from our electrical grid, to our entire financial system, to medical devices designed to save or extend our lives. Is it any wonder that so many people think it is critical to teach our children about and with technology? It will be as much, if not more, a part of their lives as it is ours.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which side of the funding stream you are on, technology is developing faster than society as a whole can keep up with it in terms of determining proper use and etiquette. It is impacting our lives before we fully understand its ability to impact our lives and, we are playing an eternal game of catch up.
We cannot deny that it is the shiny new thing that is grabbing everyone’s attention and I’m not going to stand here and tell you all technology is bad and we should revert to our pre-industrialized state. Technology does enrich our lives and provide benefit. But it is imperative that we be prudent users of it, and that is especially important in the classroom.
I cannot help but see the parallels between the introduction of technology in the classroom and the introduction of cigarettes. In both cases professionals were brought in early on to tout the benefits of the products manufactured by large corporations in order to get the public to embrace them. In the case of cigarettes the benefits the doctors initially claimed were eventually outweighed by the negative effects of the product. I think in our lifetime, cognitive scientists will similarly out the beneficial claims of Silicon Valley. Perhaps technology won’t be as deadly as cigarettes, but certain caveats to its use should be observed. Otherwise loading the classroom with technology as we are doing is akin to putting an alcoholic in a room full of liquor and telling him to only drink one glass of cabernet because studies show that a glass of red wine is full of antioxidants which are good for you.
“loading the classroom with technology as we are doing is akin to putting an alcoholic in a room full of liquor and telling him to only drink one glass of cabernet because studies show that a glass of red wine is full of antioxidants which are good for you.”
I will speak briefly of what cognitive science has discovered about how our brains work, and how we learn. Unfortunately this type of information is not being shared with future teachers in the colleges of education. As a result they are poorly prepared to resist the onslaught of fads touted to “fix” education, or to use technology in the way that is most beneficial to the age of their students.
Take very young children in preschool. A study by Sarah Roseberry in 2014 had very young children (2-2.5 y/o) communicate with adults on a screen. The language the adults used was very simplified and the tone was that which mothers naturally use with young children. In one group the adult was live Skyped in and the other group saw a pre-recorded video. The “live” adult responded to the children’s comments, questions, or facial expressions. The pre-recorded adult talked in the manner of a television host – appearing to engage the audience. The experimenter included one new vocabulary word which the children were asked to identify after the conversation. The result was that only the toddlers who’d engaged in real live conversations picked up the new vocabulary word. Several studies have shown that children learn language through conversation, not passive presentation of the language. That’s why you will never learn mandarin by watching hours of Kung Fu movies[…]
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