ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Violence, Technology, and Education: Putting Accountability in the Right Perspective

Tess Pajaron

Post submitted by Tess Pajaron of Open Colleges, an online course provider based in Australia. She regularly writes about study and work abroad experiences and advocates for education.

Would you believe me if I told you that when the telephone was invented, people didn't believe it would eventually become part of their daily lives?

In fact, the telephone was vilified. Some called it "the instrument of the devil." The New York Times, in 1876, reported that the telephone will "empty the concert-halls and the churches" as it enables people to listen to lectures, sermons, and concerts from the comfort of their own homes. You can see where the argument was going.

Sounds familiar? It should.

Because the same criticism applied to pretty much all major inventions of the last century. The phonograph was forecasted to be the demise of books and reading—people said that boys of the future will "never have to learn his letters or to wrestle with the spelling book." And the television, as you probably know, is blamed for everything from childhood obesity to the downfall of academic grades in the past decades.

Today, the same thing is happening to the Internet (in general), social networking websites, mobile technology, tablets, e-books, computer games, and any new development you can name. It's human nature to be wary of anything new. I'm not saying we should embrace technology without question, but we need to be open minded enough to review the evidence, not opinions.

Here's an example: childhood violence. Are television programs and video games to blame? The answer is we don't know.

Yes, there are studies out there that find a correlation between video games and violence, but for every one of those studies, I can name another that found no such relationship. In fact, there are studies that find positive effects games—not only "educational" ones—have on a child's mind.

We need to be comfortable saying, "We really don't know."

On the other hand, the Milken Exchange on Education and Technology concluded (PDF), after having reviewed over 700 empirical research studies, that "in an analysis of newer educational technologies, students with access to

  • Computer-assisted instruction, or
  • Integrated learning systems technology, or
  • Simulations and software that teaches higher order thinking, or
  • Collaborative networked technologies, or
  • Design and programming technologies

show positive gains in achievement on research-constructed tests, standardized tests and national tests."

It did, however, find cases in which learning technology is ineffective—and that's when the "learning objectives are unclear and the focus of the technology use is diffuse." As Martha Stone, codirector of the Educational Technology Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said in the report, "One of the enduring difficulties about technology and education is that a lot of people think about the technology first and the education later."

So no, technology will never replace a great instructor. It will never replace the warm encouragement of a parent, or the delight of a teacher seeing her student succeed, or the wisdom of an experienced administrator.

Technology is a tool, and someone must wield it. And it's a tool that can help you better achieve a whole child approach to education through keeping your students engaged, personalizing their learning, and challenging them academically.

And if you are concerned about the effect of new technology on your child's well-being (and who isn't?), take preventative measures instead of swearing it off altogether, as so many educators do. Child-monitoring services, for example, let adults "follow" their children around the web. Google has a SafeSearch function that limits what the child sees on their search engine. Even Internet service providers are getting in to help with enhancing online safety.

Or, you can take a few of the most common methods parents use to protect their child in a digital world: review the ratings of the game your children play, place computers in public areas, and regulate their use (like setting time limits).

But most importantly, you need to be involved in your child's digital life. I know that sounds obvious, but according to a September 2012 report by Child Alert, 62 percent of parents are unaware of their child's online contacts, with 28 percent saying they don't monitor and supervise their child's online behavior at all. Sadly, "only a third (33 percent) can claim that they are really vigilant when it comes to their child's online safety."

I can't find similar research with teacher-student relationships, but I suspect similar or worse statistics—seeing how teachers are more exposed to potential legal issues than parents are if they follow their students in the digital world.

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