A week ago today a number of concerned parents showed up to the HSE school board meeting to express their concerns about the 1:1 K-4 iPad roll out. Six parents even addressed the board with their concerns.
The superintendent kindly invited an IU professor to speak in order to help the group understand the questions of screen time and technology in early elementary education. Even though the professor’s field of study is integrating technology into elementary education (a bit biased), a number of key parent questions were still left unanswered.
1. What measurable impact will we see from each child having an iPad?
Rolling out 1:1 iPads at the elementary level is a huge undertaking by the staff, teachers, and parents. There are plenty of examples from the past of new technology in the classroom, from smart boards to personal computers, failing to deliver any noticeable improvement. Already we are starting to see iPad roll outs fail too. If the school corporation is going to spend this many resources on this project, there must be some measurable data we can point to that shows the benefits. One of the stated goals of HSE21 is “research based education,” yet we can’t seem to find any research that shows the measurable outcomes. Instead, all we are provided with are anecdotal videos and statements that say engagement is up.
What does the data say? Does having 1:1 iPads help test scores? Does the increased engagement continue after three or four years of having the device? What research based data shows that by giving 5 year-olds their own iPads, they will be better prepared for future technology that hasn’t been invented yet?
2. Are there health risks to giving our children more exposure to these devices at such an early age?
We already know kids spend too much time in front of the screen being unproductive at home. By giving every child their own device, are they more likely to use it instead of interacting with their friends face to face? Does early exposure lead to digital addiction?
While the American Academy of Pediatrics recently “softened” their screen time limits, parents have been left without specific information about how much screen time is too much. Does it matter if the screen time is “production” or “consumption” if a child is in front of the screen for 6 hours instead of engaging in age-appropriate play with friends or being outside? What are the mental and physical health consequences of so much screen time at a young age? What connections have been found between screen time and ADD, ADHD, vision problems, and sleep deprivation? One short term research project found that kids exposed to screens were less able read human emotions than those who had no screen exposure. Even the creators of these devices limit their usage among their children. What do they know that we don’t? These are still new devices; the increased risks are unclear.
3. Do we have the resources to implement this well?
There is currently no technical support in each building to assist with this massive introduction of 8,000 devices to elementary children. (They are trying to get building tech positions if the referendum passes.) Additionally, there has been no mandatory training for teachers, and the parents who will ultimately be responsible for these devices have had no opportunities for their own training. Is the district comfortable putting students in 1:1 classrooms where the teacher has had no training?
With 25% of Americans owning iPads, there will be groups of teachers that are comfortable enough with the device to “amplify” the learning in their classroom, but what are the risks to our children for the groups of teachers that don’t implement it well? Can poor implementation “amplify” a lack of learning in a 1:1 classroom? What if a teacher’s strengths lie with a different tool? Should we really be forcing a one size fits all teacher model?
There have been more questions than answers. Concerns about digital addiction, safety, supervision, etc. are just some of the other topics not covered here. Of course good answers will be hard to come by for a device that has only been out for 6 years. Lets spend our time, money, and energy on solutions we know work: smaller class sizes and engaged teachers.