Debate continues over benefits of technology-oriented education
Published: Monday, April 8, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 8, 2013 22:04
Young children have often been discouraged from sitting in front of the TV, but with the increase in popularity in educational technology, such as computers and tablets, “screen time” is becoming more interactive, human development and family studies professor Jennifer Gallo-Fox said.
Technology has become an integral part of the current culture, Gallo-Fox said, and the question is no longer whether children should or should not be exposed to technology, but how technology can be used most effectively as an educational tool.
“I have seen our youngest children—around eight and below—referred to as the Web 2.0 generation, and many children today are being exposed to technology at a very young age,” Gallo-Fox said. “It is a part of their lives and a part of our culture.”
The current guidelines outlined by the American Pediatrics Association and the National Association for the Education of Young Children recommend no screen time for children younger than two years old and two hours per day after that. Gallo-Fox said although technology use in society is transforming, it is important for parents to follow these guidelines and encourage their children to be active.
“Active play and pretend play are critical parts of a child’s development,” Gallo-Fox said. “We need to be sure that children have time to play and interact with other people.”
Educational technology professor Mathieu Plourde said screen time should be supervised, not banned, in the household. The fact that technology is so present in the world today will put kids who do not know how to use certain devices at a disadvantage and despite beliefs about the harmful effects of screen time, not informing children on how to use these technologies may be more detrimental, he said.
Yet, according to Plourde, too much screen time can also hurt a child’s development and getting in the habit of watching TV or sitting at the computer is a problem with all age groups and especially children.
“[TV] is probably the most effective way to transmit knowledge—kids are drawn to it and there is a reason for that,” Plourde said. “It has to be seen as a balancing act of making sure kids stay active and socialize with other people. Whether or not they are exposed to the right content is up to the parents or educators.”
Chrystalla Mouza, a professor in the university’s School of Education, said there are ways to combat this dependency and it is important for parents to not treat technology, such as TV and computers, as a babysitting device.
“The truth of the matter is that children between the ages of three and five are using technology,” Mouza said. “A recent report by Sesame Workshop indicated that 25 percent of children between the ages of zero and five use the Internet at least once a week.”
And even though children are experiencing technology at younger and younger ages, it does not mean that parents should be ignoring their use, according to Mouza.
Mouza said it is critical that technology does not replace traditional developmental activities, such as playing with blocks or doing crafts, but rather that it is used as a supplemental learning aid.
Human development and family studies professor Suzanne Trueblood said an electronic application or game should be judged as useful for children based on how educational it is. Trueblood also said it is also important for parents to interact with their child and teach them directly.
“Given the opportunity, put the child on your lap and read to them—the child gets the one-on-one contact with an adult that is so important for emergent literacy,” Trueblood said.
But while it may seem preferable for kids to go outside and play rather than stare at a screen, there are positive aspects of letting them play games, especially those that make them think, Gallo-Fox said.
“There are many apps that enable children to create stories or draw or play with music and sound,” Gallo-Fox said. “These apps provide a new medium for exploring, thinking about the world and creating.”
Mouza also said these technologies, particularly iPads, have the potential to be used in schools to help kids learn. Children are already using these devices at home and may be more engaged if they get to use them at school too, Mouza said.
Beyond that there are an estimated 20,000 educational applications available for children, and they have the potential to aid in academic learning, Mouza said, and according to Plourde, technology can also be used to help students take charge of their learning. For example, an application called Evernote allows kids to keep track of and share things they learn in the classroom. Plourde said students will often throw traditional paper notes and worksheets out or forget the information after the year is over, so keeping records electronically could be more beneficial.
However, some teachers have noticed a decline in the writing and communication abilities of students because of the terminology used on social media and through text messaging, Gallo-Fox said.
“Many of [the games and apps available for school aged children] are not mentally stimulating,” Gallo-Fox said. “I think we need to pay careful attention to any materials that children use and ask ourselves, ‘What are children learning through playing with or working with these materials?’”
Plourde said technology can be either a distraction or an enhancer in schools depending on how an educator decides to use it and Mouza also said that if used appropriately in the classroom, technology can only serve to benefit both educators and students.
“It is important that teachers use technology to create new teaching paradigms,” Mouza said. “Instead of using technology to replicate traditional activities, teachers need to create activities that take advantage of technology to allow them to do things they were unable to do without the technology.”