Computers and students. A perfect combination, right up there with movies and popcorn. Children and adolescents seemingly can’t get enough of digital media. And well, we as adults are pretty hooked, too. But just as our favorite TV shows have a downside if we watch too many of them, one episode after another, so is it with technology. We now have research findings—two different studies, for two different age groups, in two different cultures—that suggest that too much technology may actually undermine students’ academic progress.
The first study came to us from Margherita.Cordano, a reporter who contributes to a Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio News. Through Ms. Cordano we learned about a study by academics at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona in Spain on adolescents and information and communication technologies (ICTs). The students in this study were a sample of 5,538 secondary school students from the Vallès Occidental region of Catalonia during the 2011-12 school year.
The findings point to “a linear increase in school failure in relation to an increase in the hours spent on the computer and less control by parents,” Ms. Cordano said. “Nevertheless, the study shows that not using a computer at all also increases school failure up to 27 per cent,” she continued.
So, while these findings sound contradictory, think about it. If students are unsupervised when using ICTs, and if they go overboard (and honestly, who hasn’t from time to time?) their grades plummet. Also, it’s more enjoyable to use computers for chatting and games rather than conducting research; it takes a serious student to stay on task.
Here are our responses to Ms. Cordano’s questions about the study. As you’ll see we feel strongly about parents taking on the role of coaches and guides when children and adolescents use ICTs.
1. The study suggests that excessive use of ICT would be bad for academic performance, but this also happens if there is there is no access to a computer. Is it possible for teenagers to achieve a balance? What would you suggest? (MC)
This study underscores how important it is for families to engage in a dialogue about how and when children and adolescents can access personal devices and for what purpose.
While we can all agree that students need to have some access to digital media. They are the digital generation, after all, and many of their homework assignments require that they write or conduct research on the computer. But what is the balance? What about time with family and friends, physical exercise, reading a hardcopy text, and other non-screen time activities? These activities are important as well. The key is to find the right balance between being productive, socializing with friends, and playing games.
Parents have a key role to play here. They can help set limits. They can help students set aside the time they need to be productive (e.g., do homework) as well as gossiping and chatting with peers through IMS, apps, and video calls.
In other words, if young people spend most of their time chatting rather than doing homework, they clearly won’t get the grades they’re striving toward. (Jules & Nic)
2. What role should parents and teachers play? (MC)
A big role—as coaches and guides. The main issue with ICT is that media is changing rapidly and we are all learning as we go. At TechnoTeachers, we believe in taking a holistic view when it comes to technology. Apply common sense and chat about things with young learners. And most students, when they understand WHY something is bad for them, will make the right choice on their own.
Many schools have ICT usage policies. We suggest that families also make ‘codes of conduct’ at home. When is everyone allowed online and for what purpose? What technology use is allowed at home? Be clear about the guidelines and expectations.
As adults we need to remind young people that the more time they spend gossiping/gaming, the less they likely they will get that grade they want.
Lead by example. Make it clear when Smart Phones cannot be used at home (during lessons or at the dinner table for example) and when is it ok (when looking information or sharing images with your family).
Parents and teachers need to guide young people to ‘good’ performance and progress by creating social norms and codes that students can follow and understand––otherwise students will make their own. (J & N)
3. Why do you think that students using too much computers and videogames are associated with a higher risk of drug consumption? Do you think this has to do with little parent supervision? (MC)
It can be related to too little supervision and a growing sense of alienation among adolescents.
If parents are looking the other way, many teens will do what teens do––rebel, create their own ‘families’, and try to find their sense of self bit by bit.
The fact that some students choose to spend most of their discretionary time using devices (i.e., not engaged with their families) is often symptomatic of their feelings of isolation and loneliness.
If you think about it, many video games and social networks and forums are populated by older students who are struggling with self-esteem and confidence. In contrast, their high-achieving peers may spend more time socializing together—in person. Both forms of socializing can become a form of escapism––from poor academic grades, family breakdown, and/or bullying. You can understand why students who are coping with problems such as these might escape into a different world––a world where taking drugs can “improve” screen time.
We would encourage parents to give their children other options - what else can they do during their free time? How can they help their kids get though the teen years and provide healthier forms of escapism (e.g., books, movies, sports)?
Another way to think about the problem of substance abuse is that using digital media can be fun and it can also be work. An adolescent (or adult for that matter) can easily become addicted to pleasure. Taken to a ridiculous extreme, the use of digital media becomes an addiction, similar to an addiction to cannabis. (Jules & Nic)
Would you agree? What big ideas have we missed? Would you have responded differently?
I was mulling over this study today when I came upon an Op-Ed article in The New York Times by psychologist Susan Pinker (summarized in The Marshall Memo, 572, February 2, 2015). Dr. Pinker cites a longitudinal study by Duke University Economists, Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd (2010). Their findings suggested that technology can exacerbate the achievement gap in today’s schools. How? First, students in grades 5-8 who have greater access to computers at home do less well on reading and math tests than their peers with less access. Second, children who are allowed to roam the Internet freely, without supervision, tend to have lower grades. Last, the researchers found that a dip in reading scores among many boys and African Americans when they were given greater access to computers.
“Technology does have a role in education,” Dr. Pinker says. But she, too, urges for adults to supervise the time they spend online. And even more importantly, time spent surfing, chatting via social media, and downloading entertainment should not take the place of personal interactions with families and peers.
It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? And yet . . . maybe this is a good wake-up call for all of us who believe that used well, educational technology can be a powerful tool for students who have the most to gain.
What do you think? Let us know via LinkedIn or write a comment below. Look forward to hearing from you! PS We will upload a link to the article once it is online.
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