The Social Cost of iPads in Schools

ipads in classroom

A recent paper by a team from the Children’s Digital Media Center in Los Angeles explores what happened to a group of sixth-graders who attended a nature camp without any digital media available for five days. No cellphones, no iPhones, no laptops, no computers, and no television. As written about in the New York Times, the researchers found that the children who spent just five days without screens scored higher on tests in which they were asked to interpret the facial expressions of either people in photographs, or people in videos without sound, than did children who had no such break from technology.

The Times opinion piece explores the various ramifications of the study, for children and adults alike. But what I found most interesting came towards the bottom of the piece. Psychology professor Patricia Greenfield, who also worked on the study, says:

“[iPads in school classrooms are going] to reduce interaction with teachers, [they’re] going to reduce children’s interaction with each other face to face. So I think this study is very important because it does indicate there is an important social cost, and that schools need to really think about that.”

Those who know me know that I have been concerned about the use of iPads in classrooms for a few years now. Despite school districts nationwide spending billions of dollars on iPads, I have not seen any research that shows a benefit to using them in schools. In fact, the research I have read finds detrimental effects: no increase in test scores, difficulties in reading comprehension, disrupted sleep. And one school district’s plan to provide every child with an iPad went down in spectacular flames, with ongoing controversy and questions about possible ethical violations. As Stanford University education professor Larry Cuban says so well,

“There is still no evidence that iPads will increase student achievement at all. It’s not the hardware, it’s the software, and no studies have been done on the software apps in use, so no one knows,” said Cuban, who suggested the money might be better spent on training and recruiting teachers. “I’ve seen students with iPads and the novelty is there and the engagement is there, but it’s not clear that novelty and engagement will lead to increased academic achievement.”

One might be forgiven for wondering if, so far, the only true beneficiary of schools’ race to buy millions of iPads has been Apple itself. The company lobbies hard to get schools to buy the devices, and they have pocketed hundreds of millions – if not billions – of taxpayer dollars to that end.

Time will tell if iPads in schools turn out to be an important educational tool, or just a really cool toy. But now that research indicates there may be a social cost on top of the financial ones, it seems time to take serious stock of what we are doing and why.

What do you think? iPads in schools: thumbs up, or thumbs down? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Teaching Students How to Learn

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A recent article in Business Insider discusses a big problem with most classrooms: Teachers do a good job of teaching students what to learn, but they tend to neglect the important step of teaching students how to learn.

It’s probably not a coincidence that I believe one of the most important roles of a school psychologist is to help students – and their parents and teachers – understand how they learn in order to provide the most effective classroom support possible.* Teaching students about metacognition can have a huge impact on their ability to succeed.

[Y]our ability to learn is such a huge predictor of success in life, from achieving in academics to getting ahead at work. It all requires mastering skill after skill.

The article goes on to offer learning strategies that can be used by anyone. These are:

1) “Force Yourself to Recall”: Work hard at learning, don’t stop at the spot where it’s easy for you. Use flashcards!

2) “Don’t Fall for Fluency”: If it feels too easy while you’re learning something, it probably means you didn’t learn it.

3) “Connect the Old Things to the New Things”: Relate new learning to prior knowledge.

4) “Reflect, Reflect, Reflect”: Reflect on what you have learned.

Read the full article, along with lots of great embedded links to supporting research, here.


*As an aside, this is one of the shortcomings of a strictly RtI approach to intervention. RtI does a good job of showing us what a student has not learned, but does not tell us why the student has difficulty in certain areas or what the best teaching approach would be for that student. It’s true that RtI interventions gives us implicit information, but I maintain it cannot give us explicit information about gaps in learning. This is one reason I believe individual assessment is so important.