Sunday, May 1, 2016

Are Devices Eating your Students Brains?

Children's Games, 1560, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Kristen Bailey recently shared this article:
Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy, and Lazy. Penned by Victoria Dunckley for Psychology Today the article discusses the evils of screen time. A moment of parental panic ensues as author attempt to sell her book through over-generalizations and fear. No parent wants her kids to be moody, crazy nor lazy.

Dr. Dunckley's work has a basis in fact, what concerns me is the overreaching sweeping statements. Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy is such a better title than say: "Parents and kids need to be reasonable about screen time especially in the evenings". OR "Moderate balanced use of screen time can be a meaningful part of a healthy childhood.

The dire warning in Psychology Today is especially challenging given other stories about screen time and video games from the same publication. For example:
Video Gaming Can Increase Brain Size and Connectivity by Christopher Bergland

Dunckley's work emerges from reverse engineering of causes in cases she sees in her practice as a Psychiatrist.This kind of work excludes any ability to see normally behaving children and teens who have access to screen time. And, as I pointed out before, explosive titles sell books- because they prey on our base emotions, in this case, fear, combined with the tradition of screen bashing in the US. 

So, what should we as teachers do? Traditionally, we stay on the safe side, if we are not sure if something is dangerous we stay away from it. The problem with that approach is that it ignores the cost and risk in not engaging. In the case of screen time, the cost is that some students will emerge into the world of college and work without a solid footing in how to engage with digital technologies effectively. Without a reasonable capacity using digital technology students are at a disadvantage as citizens, workers, and consumers. I argue that we cannot afford to just turn it all off.

 what we should do is consider a few approaches:
  1. Put reasonable limits around screen time. Devices are alluring, once they are in front of us it is hard to resist the urge to interact. As a result teachers and parents must establish clear rules about when device use is reasonable. In my class I ask my students to turn off sound notification, ring and dings of all kinds. In addition, there are times and activities in which devices are expected to be off. To prevent problems I often ask students to turn their devices upside down on the table or close the screen down.
  2. Know your students/ children. Some students are more susceptible to the effects of screen time. As you use devices in your classroom, you will learn what the limitations of each student and design individual plans.
  3. Model appropriate device hygiene. Students emulate our behavior. We need to model device hygiene by using similar guidelines to the ones we want kids to follow. If we check our device every minute or so it will be hard to expect our students to behave differently. For example, I discuss my strategy of leaving my phone in my office to allow me to teach without any interruptions. This kind of a metacognitive model (or think aloud) can help students reach self-regulation (#5).
  4. Consider the feedback time. Different uses of devices create different feedback cycles. Quick feedback is very motivating but can desensitize students to stimuli. The trick is to include different kinds of feedback systems that do not over rely on quick feedback. For example, video games are often mentioned because of the immediate feedback and reward system. Some games, however, are not reliant on such a reward system- for example Minecraft.
  5. Teach self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to manage behavior with minimal outside intervention. It limits disruptive behavior and impulsivity and makes sure that we think before we react. Devices make self-regulation harder- hence the need to teach it through modeling, practice, and feedback.
In short, I claim that the digital environment around us can be problematic BUT it does not follow that kids will be Moody, Crazy and Lazy. Instead, I argue that with thoughtful application students can learn to use devices to enhance their learning so they can be full citizens of the world.

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