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Is Technology Ruining Schools? The Impact of Technology in Elementary School Classrooms

Written by
Magali Nichol
and
and
January 29, 2024
Is Technology Ruining Schools? The Impact of Technology in Elementary School Classrooms

As with every other institution, schools are increasingly incorporating technology into their practice. Consequently, the concept of teaching and learning is evolving and has undergone major structural, interpersonal, and practical change. 

The issue of how technology is and should be incorporated into classroom learning is very relevant, especially in elementary schools as questions arise concerning how technology influences young student’s learning. Childhood is an especially important period of one’s life.  Socialization and cognitive development begin to evolve as the accumulation of people, events, settings, emotions, and media shape a child’s life. Within this process, school is extremely prominent as it not only provides fundamental knowledge, but also plays a significant role in creating interpersonal relations. That being said, a child’s education should be executed with much consideration.

It is difficult to define whether or not the inclusion of technology in elementary schools is strictly positive or negative. There are many contrasting personal perspectives and scientific articles on the matter. However, there is a general consensus that, within the context of standardized learning, the overuse of technology in school has negative impacts on children. These being in relation to a lack of classroom communication, poor interpersonal skills, the development of a technology dependency or addiction, and a shortened attention span. Technology is an extremely resourceful, helpful and convenient tool. But to what extent does this convenience genuinely help young students learn?

School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant educational disruption. Online learning forced students at all levels to adapt to a technology-based learning system. This was not ideal seeing as social interaction is a key component to learning as it allows the teacher and learner to maintain communication through dialogue, debate, questions, and observation. 

PennState Extension explains that overall, interaction between the student, the teacher and their peers are extremely beneficial to the learning process. By demonstrating academic and interpersonal skills, teachers allow their young students to imitate them and to develop a positive attitude towards learning. Reciprocal conversations with students also help them develop their vocabulary and communication abilities. Overall, encouraging students to participate in class by asking questions, providing demonstrations and having exchanges helps the learning process run smoothly and enhances learning. Having worked in elementary schools, I also believe that interaction encourages critical thinking, assists in the development of social skills and creates a more uplifting and positive learning experience. 

Although interaction is still possible within a remote-learning context, in 2021 the Onario Science Table explained that there is a general consensus among parents, educators and students that learning is more successful in person than online. Additionally, according to an article from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, other issues arose from remote learning in children such as a rise in temper tantrums and, generally, poor emotion regulation. 

Despite schools returning to in-person learning, education reporter, Valerie Strauss, wrote in the The Washington Post that many of the technological elements brought about by COVID-19 remain in use in elementary schools. One of these being the consistent use of mobile devices at school and at home. The Ontario Ministry of Education allows personal mobile devices to be used during instructional time “for educational purposes, such as conducting research or access educational websites, as directed by the educator in the classroom.” This includes using softwares that assist students in reading and writing, digital files and worksheets, digital calendars and organizational platforms, video lessons, etc. Incorporating personal devices into educational endeavors can blur the line between school and home, or, education and leisure; especially for children.

Some argue that the convenience of technology within a learning context encourages the development of a technology addiction. 

The superficial engagement of technological devices and programs is one of the main factors that makes children more prone to a technology addiction. Child Mind Institute delves into this, saying that immediate superficial reward is more stimulating. The New York Times also emphasizes this notion, saying that technology is intended to be hyper engaging and stimulating. The implementation of technology in academic tasks, especially at a young age, can make it difficult for children to differentiate genuine reward and superficial reward within an educational context. Through technology, the process of finding answers一which is very beneficial in terms of critical thinking and problem solving一is often eliminated. 

The use of modern technology in elementary schools can be detrimental because of the stimulating and immediate nature of technological devices and programs. Implementing technology within children’s educational habits and routine can lead to a dependence on technology to complete academic tasks. 

Another negative effect stemming from this is the issue of a shortened attention span and distraction in the context of the classroom. Not only does the use of electronic devices give ample opportunity to just go on other apps or websites, it also is saturated with stimulation, notifications, and information. 

The impacts of this phenomenon are very evident in elementary schools. Longer lessons and tasks are often unsuccessful because of distraction, or the way children are accustomed to processing information through technology; in “small, bite-sized pieces”, as described by Santa Maria College. Another contributing factor to students’ shortened attention span is that technology, in many cases, removes the need to pay attention at all. The ability to record, screenshot/take pictures of notes, or search up a concept only when it is needed makes students less likely to focus and understand the information being taught. As a result of this, when children learn through or with the heavy assistance of technology, the information tends to be consumed more than it is processed. 

Technology is seen to limit critical thinking and creativity in school due to its immediate responsiveness. Not needing to reflect on prior knowledge or search for answers/solutions does not assist much in the development of cognitive skill. 

However, many tend to have a contrasting perspective to this one and believe that the inclusion of technology in education enhances creativity and critical thinking. 

Matt Dombrowski’s article explains that the various platforms, applications and formats made available to students through technology encourages them to express their ideas in a way that caters to their strengths. This aspect of technology can help promote individuality and can help keep students engaged in their learning. 

Another important point brought up in this article is that technology provides resources to make learning accessible to more students. Digital applications can adapt to the needs of students with learning disabilities and can provide them with individualized help that would be otherwise unavailable in a standardized classroom setting. 

Overall, there are many positives and many negatives relating to the use of technology in elementary school classrooms. Drawing from what I’ve read and my experience, I believe that technology, when it is used in heavily considered moderation is beneficial, and I would even argue that it is somewhat necessary in the classroom due to its increasing prominence in other areas of life.

It is hard to generalize whether it is good or bad because learning is a largely individual experience, however, I can say with certainty that both extremes have their negative repercussions.

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