While some declare that tablet PCs are the best thing for schools since the number 2 pencil, others have learned the lesson of adopting the new technology too quickly. School administrators should do their homework before committing to such an expense and be certain to learn the political lay of the land. An enthusiastic 2011 study conducted by Dilip Chhajed, a professor of business administration at Illinois and co-author of the study led him to declare “We always think before we do anything new that we should lay the groundwork to preempt complaints from students, faculty or staff. What was refreshing about this approach was we didn't wait for perfection to start.” With that giddy endorsement, many school administrators plowed ahead with the purchase of tablets and software for their schools. To what extent? Last year a Pew Research Center-Harvard University study that found one in four teenagers in the US owns a tablet. More importantly, now almost every classroom has at least one computer and internet connection according to the US Department of Education. With such universal acceptance, what could go wrong with the adaptation of tablets into an entire school system? The risks are two-fold. First, technology has a short shelf life. Those committing to it must also commit to its laser speed obsolescence. Consider Ramona High school of Riverside, CA.
In 2011 that school issued every student an Android computer loaded with digital textbooks and e-learning software. The new Androids had 7-inch screens. Two years later, the state of California mandated that students would be required to take online standardized tests requiring the use of 10-inch screen computers. Riverside was not alone in that tech dilemma. The mandate affected schools throughout the state of California, causing a lawsuit that could cost the state $1 billion to revamp its statewide testing system. The suit brought by the schools alleges that the state failed to adequately fund the very testing program that it had mandated. That failure to fund the mandate would force California schools to use bond funds earmarked for facility improvements to update student computers. School officials argued that such fund shifting would not sit well with California voters (reported by Dayna Straehley and Sarah Tully of PE.com). The case is still pending. The second risk is that of the long-term impact of technology use by students.
In 2013, the Orange County Register reported that three-quarters of American students taking part in the first-ever national writing test could not communicate effectively…even with immediate access to spell-check, a thesaurus, and full word processing tools during the exam. The so-called "The Nation's Report Card" tested 24,100 eighth-graders in 950 schools and 28,100 12th-graders in 1,220 schools. Only 27% of those tested scored “proficient or advanced” on the writing exam. In 2007, 33% scored “proficient or advanced”. While some, like author Sandra Stotsky, attribute the decline in student reading skills to “multiculturalism” (“Losing Our Language: How Multiculturalism Undermines Our Children’s’ Ability to Read, Write and Reason” - Encounter Books), others point to the negative effects of technology in the classroom and in students’ lives.
Those effects go beyond the reliance of texting and its short, informal language. In his article for The Guardian, Daniel J. Levitin explains that we have become a race of failed multi-taskers due to our lives being absorbed by digital distractions. Email, text messages, pop-up ads, videos on web pages, moving graphics: they all compete not only for attention but for room in our brain. When phone calls, music, and background noise are added to the equation; our brains are oversaturated and we go upon a mad desire to satisfy the demands of all of the media. We must answer the emails, text back to the sender, watch the video, hum along with the song. While we feel we are successfully multi-tasking as we attempt to study or work in that environment, we are failing miserably.
Levitin cites Stanford neuroscientist Russ Poldrack who discovered that multitasking causes new information to be stored in the wrong part of the brain. In a study of students who watched TV while studying while control group studied without TV, Poldrack noted the control group’s brains correctly stored the data in the hippocampus, the brain’s region for storing facts and ideas. The TV watchers’ brains stored the data in the striatum; a region for storing new procedures and skills. This data “miss-filing” by the TV watchers’ brains caused their inability to recall what they had just learned. What is the takeaway? Technology is here to stay and the students are baptized in it long before they enter school. Devices such as tablets do have a place in schools due to their cost-effectiveness and student expectations, but educators need to adequately research the type of devices to use as well as to develop rules and curriculum that will control how students will use the devices to access the internet. Lastly, we all must realize that “techno-multitasking” is no substitute for a peaceful, distraction-free work/study environment.