A balanced education: Students must learn to study online and off


Related | Tips for parents in managing students' screen time

Children and teenagers have around the clock access to electronic information and entertainment, from television to tablets, smartphones to laptops, and video game devices of all kinds. But how often, each day, should they be staring at a screen?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are spending an average of seven hours a day looking at an electronic device or some sort of information through a technology-based feed. Even in the classroom children are able to use computers, which counts for a portion of their total screen time.

More autonomy

J.P. Henkel, director of technology at Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams, Mass., said that integrating technology into the classroom allows students more autonomy in learning material. When students are ready to move on from a subject, they have the freedom to do so, Henkel said.

"If they're going ahead [in a subject or assignment], they can continue on their own," he said. "That's really powerful because we don't to track the sections in each class. Diversity in the classroom [learning] is the norm and technology helps do that."

Integrating technology in the classroom is a huge advantage for those that can do so, since digital applications are an integral part of the modern workplace. Learning how to use databases and design software can further students' knowledge in specific fields, helping them to become more college and career ready.

In terms of devices, BART primarily uses Chromebook laptops and owns seven computer carts that can be signed out for classroom use. One cart is Mac based and five out of the eight are stationed in certain classrooms because the teachers decided most of the coursework in those classes will require the use of a laptop. BART also has two three-dimensional printers that are used for assignments.

'A means, not an end'

The challenge with such an emphasis on screen-based learning is that 10 to 20 percent of the students at BART do not have access to the Internet at home, so they're urged to use external tools in order to complete homework assignments, Henkel said.

"It's a serious disadvantage," he said. "Technology is a means, not an end."

With the rise in use of technology by children, it's important to balance their virtual time, especially when in the classroom, according to the AAP. Electronic devices in school should be used for practical purposes such as researching, working on projects, science labs or designing a product versus entertainment. The AAP also suggests that learning should be supplemented by offline materials such as books, newspapers, board games and face-to-face time with other students and teachers.

"Balance is important to everything we do," said Frank Barnes, director of educational technology of the Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union.

"All learners, including kids, need to balance time to research, create, discuss, reflect, and process information. Digital devices can be useful in many ways, but they shouldn't be the only tools a student has," he said. "For example, kids can research using web searches and online libraries, museums, and primary sources; they can create a video or design a 3-D model and then print it on a 3-D printer; they can discuss a topic through a blog; they can reflect and process by keeping an online journal or writing stories or poetry using Google Docs."

Cautions to take

While the American Academy of Pediatrics states that seven hours of a child's day is consumed by a screen, it also advises that children and teenagers "should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day," and that it should be monitored by adults to ensure young people are getting high-quality content.

Experts say an unhealthy amount of exposure to digital media can affect a person's sleep, attention span, ability to do well in school and create social bonds. It can also lead to eating disorders and obesity, and issues with being exposed to illicit and risky behaviors.

"To the extent that online study increases screen time overall, it would seem wise to be mindful of the potential problems in children, adolescents and adults associated with too much exposure when combined with leisure use of electronics," said Aaron Sardell, a licensed clinical psychologist in Berkshire County. "This is especially true when it comes to the effects of light emitting electronic devices on sleep and on the body's natural 24-hour clock also know as our circadian rhythm."

Respites from screen

Some ways to break up screen time in school may be for a student to discuss ideas with a peer or as a class, Barnes suggested. This depends on the age of the student, as well as "context of lesson and physical location, but one could also create a sketch of key points, take a walk, play a word game, or write topics on poster paper placed around the room and have kids put sticky notes of ideas and thoughts on the paper."

He suggested simple tasks like "taking pictures to demonstrate a change of seasons, for example; or creating a video or audio recording," are short-term ways of using technology.

"One of the things I did when I was still a classroom English teacher was to suggest students print out their essays, record themselves reading aloud, and listen to the recording," Barnes said. "Physically listening to your words often reveals the difference between what you think you wrote and what you actually put down."

While there are many positives to students using technology to learn, finding balance through alternative ways of learning can lead to healthier, more well-rounded lives. As the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines state, "It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play."

Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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