By Frank Edelblut
To screen or not to screen? That is the question facing parents and educators across the country.
Digital technology has opened up new possibilities in teaching, as well as so many other areas of modern life. But new research finds that too much screen time can hinder a child’s educational development. The key is to find ways to use technology effectively as one part of an overhaul teaching strategy. The challenge is that some techniques may be effective for some students, but ineffective for others.
Recent surveys find that 91% of teachers say effective use of technology enables students to be more active and engaged in their learning. Over 92% of those teachers agree that technology offers opportunities for students that they might not otherwise have. Teachers note that using technology effectively increases student confidence, allowing them to participate actively in class. Students are more motivated when lessons involve the specific use of technology for specific purposes. Integrating tech into the lesson plan or an accommodation in a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) increases student motivation.
For the past several decades, state and federal policy has pushed for more computers in the classroom, providing grants and incentives for new equipment. But are we getting the most of all that hardware and software?
The most important factor in determining whether screen time is helpful or harmful is the context of the use of the screens. Passive screen time is the use of screens for watching videos or television, browsing social media and internet sites, and playing certain games. Conversely, active or creative screen time involves being interactive with screens and devices in order to learn a skill, make music, edit images and photography, or create videos and animations. Using productivity software and applications to code, game, develop, write, or draw requires active thought in interactions with the screen beyond passive observations. There should be balance between control, monitoring, and guidance when using technology effectively, so that learning and achievement are supported in our students.
Deploying digital technology effectively in the classroom requires constant professional development. Teachers have to keep learning themselves in order to meet student needs and employ emerging tools and techniques. Professional development is a priority for the Department of Education, and an area where we work extensively with local schools.
One of the strategies we’ve adopted in New Hampshire to help teachers serve the varying needs of their students is Universal Design for Learning, or UDL. This asks teachers to design lessons for a variety of learning styles in order to engage as many learners as possible. Many of the lessons that are universally designed will use strategies that include digital tools and resources in ways that meet students where they are. New Hampshire’s UDL program is now in its third year, and teachers who’ve been through the training sessions overwhelmingly say that it has improved their ability to reach their students.
On Tuesday, Oct. 15, Apple is holding a pair of workshops at the Portsmouth Harbor Events and Conference Center designed to help teachers make better use of technology. Apple and other tech companies are also hosting preconference workshops as part of the Christa McAuliffe Transforming Teacher Technology Conference in Manchester in December. These events will give teachers hands-on training in how to effectively engage their students with these digital tools. I want to encourage New Hampshire educators to take advantage of these and other opportunities to improve their skills in using technology in the classroom.
Digital technology is always just one piece of the overall education system. School needs to be more than students staring at screens. We want kids running around on playgrounds. We want them learning in the community. We want them learning through interactions with their classmates.
Let’s learn to take advantage of the potential that digital learning offers, and make sure our students’ limited screen time is worthwhile.
Frank Edelblut is Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education.