Technology and Attention

“There is a debate on whether technology is harming students attention. Do you think technology in the classroom will contribute to the deterioration of students attention OR help students attention for learning. (Please include outside sources to back up your point)”

This is a loaded question. My answer as a K/1 teacher will likely differ greatly from someone’s opinion if they teach high school. In my opinion, technology does not negatively affect my students’ attention because it is carefully monitored and controlled…by me. I choose the amount of time my students are exposed to technology and how much they use tech to enhance their education. Yes, students are able to choose tech devices to show their thinking and we do use movies and different apps to add to their learning experience in relevant content areas, but my students are not distracted by games and texting like older student might be. I try to fit in an appropriate amount of tech use while still giving my students plenty of time to learn by playing with hands on, real world materials.

In fact, I would go so far as to say my students’ attention is enhanced by technology. Their engagement in their work is extremely high when given the option to use technology vs. traditional tools such as pencil and paper. They are eager to show me their ability to manipulate the iPad to create posts for their blog or photograph their traditionally produced projects.

In a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center for the Pew Research Internet Project, there were many differing views expressed. Many respondents were noting a negative impact on student attention and critical thinking skills because of technology use, however, this comment resonated with me:

Many survey participants said always-on connectivity to global information is a double-edged sword. Dave Rogers, managing editor of Yahoo Kids, observed that there will be winners and losers as this technology evolves. “Certainly,” he noted, “there will be some teens and young adults who will suffer cognitive difficulties from unhealthy use of the internet, Web, social media, games, and mobile technology. These problems will arise not because of the technology but because of wholly inadequate adult guidance, training, and discipline over young people’s use of the technology. But most teens and young adults will prosper as described in the first option.”

If students in my class were to be given free reign over their technology, then my opinion would be very different. Children are not yet able to self-regulate their tech use, so they are drawn to use it for an inappropriate amount of time. Tech addiction is an issue that needs to be addressed, for sure. It is still extremely important for children to learn to use pencil, crayons, paper, scissors and other traditional tools to have a well-rounded education.

In Pshychology Today, Dr. Jim Taylor writes:

What does all this mean for raising your children? The bottom line is that too much screen time and not enough other activities, such as reading, playing games, and good old unstructured and imaginative play, will result in your children having their brains wired in ways that may make them less, not more, prepared to thrive in this crazy new world of technology. (2012)

Is there a place for technology at school? Of course, but there is also a place for paint, paper, water, sand, dirt, mud, blocks, Lego and caterpillars. Technology should never be the main focus of attention in a kindergarten classroom, it should be a tool used just like a pencil or a piece of paper to demonstrate a student’s learning. Teachers must teach their students how to appropriately regulate their use of technology and in turn, hold their students to a high standard of learning that demonstrates that technology enhances what we have done in our classrooms all along.

References:

Anderson, J. and Rainie, L. (2012, Feb. 29) Main findings: Teens, technology, and human potential in 2020
Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/02/29/main-findings-teens-technology-and-human-potential-in-2020/

Taylor, J. (2012, Dec. 4) How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus Are your children prepared to think and focus for success in 21st century life?
Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children-think-and-focus

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5 thoughts on “Technology and Attention

  1. I.Love.This.Paragraph.
    “Is there a place for technology at school? Of course, but there is also a place for paint, paper, water, sand, dirt, mud, blocks, Lego and caterpillars. Technology should never be the main focus of attention in a kindergarten classroom, it should be a tool used just like a pencil or a piece of paper to demonstrate a student’s learning. Teachers must teach their students how to appropriately regulate their use of technology and in turn, hold their students to a high standard of learning that demonstrates that technology enhances what we have done in our classrooms all along.”
    We want balanced children who are connected to the world we live in both physically, emotionally and digitally. I agree completely with you, and think that teachers need to help learners navigate both worlds. I want my students to be able to interact with nature and still be in awe of it, and I want them to share their ideas with the world in a purposeful way. I want to give my students experiences that merge the both, because I think it makes them stronger holistically . I came home sharing your feelings after our Digital Media Trip in Harrison. After two days shooting in the first and travelling to amazing sites, I saw students connect to nature, and develop a deep appreciation for the beauty we re surrounded by when looking at their world through the camera lens. Their compositions and edits were amazing, and although the they were creating digital media, the inspiration for the images came from the natural world we experienced that weekend. People say I’m weird when I say I took my digital media class to the forest, but I say, why wouldn’t you?
    I also appreciate your comment on tech not being the focus. I think that tech in our classrooms needs to be meaningful and purposeful and aims at enhancing learning, not just tech for the sake of tech cases. It needs to be transformative and enriching.

    • Thank you, Brooke! I was thinking of your digital media trip when I wrote this, actually. Tech and nature don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and using the tech to record the wonder of the outdoors is a very powerful thing, indeed.

      My school is looking into starting a Nature Kindergarten like the one in Sooke. If we go in that direction I will be testing out how technology can help us make the most of our outdoor nature time to display our observations and learning.

  2. Once again you and I differ but see the world in the same light.

    I think if there is any hope of technology ever being used appropriately in the high school setting, it will be because our colleagues in elementary have done a great job of establishing this skill set before they hit high school. No pressure!

    Once again elementary teachers rule, high school teachers drool! 😉

    • Haha! High school teachers rock…I could NEVER do what you do, Keith.

      I think part of the whole issue about tech self regulation and attention comes because parents did not grow up with tech as part of their lives. They are struggling through the same distractions and attention-dominating technology as their kids, so perhaps they don’t know HOW to teach their kids what is appropriate and what isn’t?

      We elementary school teachers will do our best to prepare the kids for high school. But who knows what other distractions will develop between when I teach them and when you do?

  3. Hello Michelle. The important part of elementary education – as Keith mentions – is to teach students at the earliest age possible that technologies come in many forms and they all have appropriate uses. (but who teaches the adults this point!). Your quote “there is a place for paint, paper, water, sand, dirt, mud, blocks, Lego and caterpillars.” is exactly correct. But wouldn’t these ‘low-tech’ alternatives also enhance high school learning? And also your point that “technology is carefully monitored and controlled — by you” is the exact issue teachers in higher grades are struggling with. It’s teachers attempt to control students use of technology in the classroom which is leading to a divide between those who see technology as a pervasive medium for student expression, and a device of distraction.
    Excellent post!

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