Rethinking edtech amid parent concerns over K12 screen time

By: | Issue: January, 2019
December 19, 2018

 

Private schools in wealthy areas such as California’s Silicon Valley have cut educational screen time amid rising parent and pediatrician concerns about the impact of devices on students’ psychological and social development.

Such measures are likely to spread to other areas, thanks to advocacy from parent groups, says Joe Clement, co-author of the book Screen Schooled.

“Schools are mandating that kids have to be online to do their work,” Clement says. “Parents are concerned that the limits they set in their house are being overrun by what the school is telling kids to do.”

Edtech vs. entertainment

Parents’ worries are legitimate, “but there’s a real difference between kids on social media compared to kids using digital resources in educationally appropriate ways,” says John Watson, founder and CEO of Evergreen Education Group, a K12 research organization that runs the Digital Learning Collaborative.

Examples of poorly implemented digital-learning initiatives exist. “But looking at those examples and saying we should be pushing to limit screen time in schools is throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Watson says.

Schools typically do not track class screen time, though teachers sometimes do, Watson says. “Most teachers don’t want kids to come in and just stare at their laptops,” Watson says. “They want to do a mix of engaging with students one-to-one, in small groups, and sometimes on their computers, and that makes total sense.”

In rural areas or the inner city, schools are sometimes the only places students can access the internet, Watson says. “Parent groups in places like Silicon Valley saying, ‘We need to limit this,’ are from places of incredible privilege,” he adds.

Best practices for administrators

Baltimore County Public Schools has implemented guidance from a county school health council on educational computer use. Every classroom in the district features a poster recommending the following:

• computer time takes up less than half of learning time during the school day

• students take activity breaks from computer work every 20 minutes

• students leave devices inside during recess

“Today’s students are born into a world where technology creates 24/7 access to people, to ideas and to information,” says district spokesperson Brandon Oland. “Even so, we stress balance in technology use.”

A new Maryland law now requires health and education departments to develop best practices for digital device use in the classroom by June 2019.

Schools can institutionalize practices for how students work on devices to increase effectiveness, says Watson, of Evergreen Education Group. For example, at one 1-to-1 school, when a teacher in any classroom says, “red stage,” students put the devices in their backpacks, while “yellow stage” means they place closed devices on their desks, and “green stage” means they open them.


Hours per day students spend consuming online media including games, videos and social media, but not counting online school assignments

9 —students ages 13 to 18

6 —students ages 8 to 12

Source: Common Sense Media