Is the “App Gap” the Next Achievement Gap?

What is too much screen time? An article in today’s nytimes tries to address some of the concerns, as well as point to the divide that some are saying is the next achievement gap.

I’m a huge proponent of technology, but if you visit my classroom, you may see me or my students using it as a tool from time to time. More often than not, we are usually more engaged in the physical world around us rather than the virtual one. Screen time is concern that many parents and teachers grapple with.

Like everything, technology has to be meaningful and purposeful, it needs to be used as a tool that helps with learning, and it has to be limited.

When thinking about how kids use technology, it should promote critical thinking (Do they know how to analyze their search results, or do they just trust the first thing that Bing or Google produce?). It should promote responsibility (Are they using it to learn?). It should also promote digital citizenry (Are they leaving a digital footprint that may help someone else?). Kids should be producing things more than consuming them. Students should always be asking more questions. Children should also be engaged by their curiosity.

When a child asks, “How do I change the font?” one should encourage them to explore. “If you were to design the program, how would you change the font?” is often how I respond, leaving them to experiment, “play,” and find out for themselves. There are often students who are more than eager to show others how to do things, and it’s really this kind of social interaction (in the real world) where great learning occurs.

There’s a huge difference in type of screen time such as TV, where children are passive compared with writing a final draft on a computer screen. Computers aren’t going away, and kids need to see how it can be used in ways to create and be curious. How we do this needs to be carefully thought through. As a teacher, when introducing a technology component, one has to ask: What skill is being lost (if any) when introducing a new tech tool into the classroom? What are the trade-offs?

There was a great article last week about the Waldorf School’s philosophy of “no tech.” My philosophy is that using technology is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. One needs to be thoughtful and deliberate about its use. If I thought an app could teach kids how to read, I’d be spending my time trying to create that app.

I have many more thoughts on this, but one thing I’m trying to do is not only teach my students how to evaluate the technology they use, but also to teach them how to turn it off.