Imagine sitting in a classroom and participating in a debate. Everyone has a pencil and paper out on their desk, and, while they scribble down notes every few minutes, their focus is primarily on actively participating in the discussion and following all of the lines of reason being drawn. Freeze that frame in your mind. Replace the pencils and paper with laptops and tablets; now, instead of hearing voices of your peers command the room, hear the clicks of people typing on a keyboard paired with occasional murmurs of an idea or a teacher asking, “does anyone have any thoughts at all? The engaging environment has been eliminated, and in its wake is an awkwardly silent, disconnected group of people waiting out a forty-five minute period.
I have sat in far too many classrooms in which there have been walls between my classmates and me created by technology.
In our freshman year, we were required to have iPads to do our work. Now we have graduated to laptops, but the result is still the same: no one is ever completely on task. Personal technology is a distraction to an otherwise creative and highly stimulating environment that supports creativity and independence, and it keeps students from retaining the lessons.
It seems dramatic, but it’s all very simple. When a student gets bored of the lesson or tired of paying close attention, they stop listening and start noticing the red circles appearing on their apps notifying them that someone else is trying to talk to you, from there they ask themselves who it is, what they need, whether or not it is important, and then it is almost impossible to keep themselves from clicking on their messages app and starting up a new, probably more interesting, conversation, and, once they stop paying attention, they will not hear the rest of the teacher’s lesson. On EdTech, a website dedicated to researching technology’s role in education, the technology available in classrooms stretches from interactive whiteboards to cell phones1.
There is an important distinction to be made: educational technology is technology used by a teacher to enhance a lesson using some sort of media supplement, while personal technology, in the classroom, is used by a student with the idea that they will use it for educational purposes by the teacher’s direction.
A classroom is a place designed to foster a student’s ability to problem solve, develop their character, and ask questions, and that cannot happen authentically when they have the ability to Google answers that they could’ve gotten to on their own. Technology has a tendency to enhance laziness more than it does education. The social aspect of a school has been turned on its head since the introduction of social media. This has created a culture of constant negativity and cyberbullying. As I stated earlier, overcoming the instinct to click on the notification button is impossible, and, when a student is experiencing bullying, the student will never feel safe, as they are tortured every moment they have their devices on them. This creates hostility that stretches into every moment in a classroom; school can no longer be a haven in which students are given time to be distracted from negativity and pressure by being allowed to channel their energy into creativity, growth, and knowledge. Finally, technology gives us the illusion of multitasking. Students claim they can watch TV, do math homework, and hold four conversations on 3 different platforms; in reality, this is not the case. Instead of learning to give their attention to one task at a time to ensure it is done to the best of their ability, students learn to prioritize efficiency over quality. They believe that they have no cracks in a perfect system, but really they are losing the ability to retain information and extend their attention span.
Technology addictions are classified as a legitimate addictions by several research institutions, including Stanford University. As discussed in the CBS News article “Internet addiction changes brain similar to cocaine: study”, which was published in January of 2012, technology affects our emotions, decision-making, and self-control. People lose the ability to connect with their peers and loved ones. When that dynamic is brought into a classroom, students with underdeveloped brains do not have the ability to overpower their dependence on technology. Instead of wanting to connect with the diverse environment of a classroom, they want to check the likes on their latest Instagram post. They’d prefer looking at relatable memes to participating in a discussion on American foreign policy. As a student, I can say that, as soon as I get off track on my computer in a class, it is incredibly rare that I will end up getting back on track before class finishes, and then it begins a cycle. After a student stops paying attention, they fall behind, so they quickly get frustrated, and stop paying attention, which only leads to more confusion. A question that arises is how much the student is to blame for their increasing isolation from their classmates. Personal technology is engineered to pull our attention and throw us into a black hole of measuring our worth by our number of followers, how similar we look to celebrities, and comparing every part of our body to an unachievable ideal. When we exist in that mindset, the research our teacher has asked us to do during our class period pales in comparison to checking all of our social media platforms. It isn’t the fault of the teacher for not being interesting enough; it isn’t the fault of the student for not having more self-control. Placing blame doesn’t remove the distraction; we can only achieve a positive environment when we eliminate the distraction from our daily educational experiences. Is this barrier between teachers and students really the educational environment we all hope to experience?
It cannot be denied that technology is integral to the efficiency of workplaces around the world, but it can be said that it hinders creativity. With the resources that technology provides, it is perceived as lazy to sit around brainstorming, when you could simply Google your problem and have the top one hundred tried and true solutions in seconds. Developing your own ideas and beliefs takes exposure to what is out there in our world, but it also takes reflection. There are many great thinkers who we can aspire to have similarity with, but our value comes when we step out from the shadows as an individual. Individuality comes from within, not from DuckDuckGo. It is said that schools are where we, as unique people, are developed, but can that be said when a classroom is full of students who are just presenting whatever was written on Buzzfeed as our own opinion? Researching a topic online gives us facts that we corroborate with several reputable intellectual and news outlets, but students in our time confuse fact with opinion. The opinion comes after we learn the facts; it comes when we implement creativity. Creativity cannot be supplied by any website; we find it when we put our devices away and let our stream of consciousness flow. In classrooms that don’t allow personal technology, students are required to be alone with their thoughts, to hold several different views on the same matter in their mind, and hone their own feelings on a topic.
Technology also can have the effect of rewiring our brains. Students shorten their attention span by being able to flip through apps. For example, at this exact moment, I have five desktops, five apps, and eighteen tabs open, and that will probably not drastically change until I feel the disorganization and clutter starting to bother me in about a week. Does that make me a bad student? No, but it makes me a distracted one. While every person has the ability to focus on a task at hand, how long before your mind falls to your dashboard and another app begs for your focus? According to a UK news outlet, The Telegraph, there was a study done in May of 2015 that showed the fall of the human attention span from twelve seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2015. According to that same article, a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. In a study called Attention Span Statistics done by Statisticbrain.com in 2016, an office worker checks their email 30 times per hour and people get impatient with an Internet video after an average of 2.7 minutes. All of these times have dropped significantly with the introduction of personal technology into workplaces and schools. The moment people get bored they switch tasks, which only worsens their attention span. On average, a person must write down a simple fact seven times before they remember it for a short term, but, in order to retain information, we must study in short intervals over an extended period of time, and, with our attention being on short term efficiency, the likelihood of repetition and working ahead is slim to none.
It would be absurd to say that technology is an exclusively negative influence. In today’s workplace, proficiency in technology is not an added bonus of a job candidate, it is a requirement. However, banning personal technology from classrooms is not the same as banning it from education as a whole. Homework can still involve technology; the only process it hinders is class interaction and connection. It is also important to distinguish the difference between teaching about technology and letting students use personal technology independently in the classroom; again, teaching about technology is crucial for the success of a student in the working force, but personal use of technology holds back a student’s creative development. There is something to be said for the dynamic that can be brought into an engaged classroom when a student is able to bring up a relevant article or material that sparks a discussion or debate in a classroom, and those moments are important to learning, as a student has showed interest in a way that pulls them deeper into the material, and to that I must concede that, in that instance, technology is an enhancer in a classroom, but those moments are rare enough that the question of their worth is raised once again.
Personal technology is a distraction to an otherwise creative and highly stimulating environment that supports creativity and independence, and it keeps students from retaining the lessons. To call technology evil or wrong is not the correct approach; it is our use of technology that must be evaluated. We have lost quiet moments of reflection in which we could foster creativity and our passions to glowing screens and comparison to unattainable goals. Our young lives should emphasize education and exploration, not of the limitless reaches of the internet, but in the depths of our minds and characters, and the classroom is where so much of that is developed, so I call our reliance on technology into question.