A recent addiction study found that an “uncontrollable need” to use smartphones is on the rise among young people. Out of 3000 adults surveyed, one fifth of those aged 18–29 showed signs of “moderate to severe problematic use” of their devices, compared with only 2.2 percent of those over the age of 30.
The study came from an organization that has historically reports trends on tobacco, alcohol, gambling and other addictive behaviors — but due to the increasing penetration of technology, the study added use of electronic devices into its latest question pool.
The fact that the devices we trust and use every day have made it onto a survey related to addiction and mental health directly brings into question the value of these tools in the classroom. It’s no secret, for example, that mobile distractions are a danger behind the wheel, with many states and provinces increasing the restrictions against texting and driving.
But now that studies are officially linking phone use to addictive behavior what place do smartphones really have in schools?
The fact that devices have made it onto a survey related to addiction and mental health directly brings into question the value of these tools in the classroom.
Should phones be allowed in school?
Many technology pundits and tech-savvy teachers have sought not only to inject technology into the classroom, but to convince learners that it’s education's solution — to equitable learning, engagement, participation, and personalization. While this strategy has its merits, it’s much too early to determine its effectiveness, and it only forces students already using their devices every day to become even more immersed.
The argument for outright banning technology in schools, on the other hand, is also flawed. A technology ban doesn’t consider how unrealistic an expectation it is to ask young people to completely unplug from the hyper-connected world we now live in. The approach also doesn’t help young people, who are perhaps already more dependent technology users, to change their behavior or learn how to become less dependent upon their devices when they are not at school.
A technology ban doesn’t consider how unrealistic an expectation it is to ask young people to completely unplug from the hyper-connected world we now live in.
Students face a new world of technology
Learners today are traversing a challenging new world not many of us have experienced. The landscape of the internet has transformed significantly over the last 10 years alone, with innovation changing at a pace more rapid than ever in human history. Technology designers, developers, and marketers are more astute than ever before in methods that attract, persuade, and influence users into endless consumption loops. Along with rapidly changing technology, this causes concern for brains that are trying to keep up but unable meet these growing cognitive demands.
Yet young students from grade school to university are now expected to have both a vibrant digital presence — a gleaming LinkedIn page, a spotless Instagram profile — as well as a highly effective ability to self-manage their use of technology. Those who are unable to are left to figure it out alone.
This expectation is like putting a group of people that want to be healthy and know how to work out into a gym, while teasing them with a buffet of their favorite treats. Someone is simply bound to crack.
Technology in schools is like putting people who want to be healthy and know how to work out into a gym, while teasing them with a buffet of their favorite treats.
The reality is, as revealed by the aforementioned study and countless other cases, that as many as one in five young adults do "crack".
Will that figure rise? It’s certainly likely — and pushing technology into places it doesn’t really need to be, like the classroom, may be what accelerates its rise.
How can educators really help?
Technology, when used right, obviously has its advantages. It’s bridged the gap for individuals, who may otherwise not afford a computer, access to a world of knowledge. It’s afforded young adults in challenging situations the ability to learn without barriers and to access knowledge once inaccessible. It’s made work easier to accomplish and often more efficient.
But it’s the other side of our digital landscape that few want to admit is as big a problem as it has become, and it’s time those capable of producing the biggest change start acknowledging its flaws realistically.
Rather than simply prohibit the tools students should be learning how to manage, teachers need to first acknowledge that technology addiction is a real and growing problem — and it's happening to at least 20% of the younger population. If students are taught the dangers of consuming alcohol and smoking, so too should they be taught the realities of technology addiction and how to successfully manage their tech use.
If students are taught the dangers of consuming alcohol and smoking, so too should they be taught the realities of technology addiction and how to successfully manage their tech use.
Teachers at every level — especially higher education where the pressures and new experiences of college can be unmanageable for many — must understand that "self-control" is easier said than done, and as many as 1 in 5 students entering college may already be addicted. So rather than simply injecting technology into the classroom with polls and games that live on their tempting smartphones, educators should consider offline alternatives for their students as well.
For example, if homework, team projects, and even the courses themselves are bound to a virtual existence , alternatively working to hard to create real, analog, and offline spaces for discussion and deeper thinking inside the classroom is where educators need to start.
7 Ways You Can Foster Authentic Learning Experiences
- Encouraging student groups to meet after class in real life, rather than from behind their respective screens, will help students improve social skills and their ability to communicate effectively in person.
- Applying technology in a positive way for self-reflection, not strictly collaboration, like introducing students to mindfulness and meditation through easily accessible (and free) apps. It may help reduce the anxiety and stress associated with life’s snowballing expectations.
- Assigning real paper books to be physically taken out, read, and discussed may help improve their creative and cognitive thinking, and establishing this habit will be valuable for maintaining tech-life balance.
- Teaching students to unplug and promote a tech-free classroom by using innovative platforms like Flipd. It helps students who are easily distracted learn to focus their attention on the present experience.
- Encouraging students to step outside of their usual screens to meet with real mentors and experts, and to explore and question real life problems, will help them build character, empathy, and relationships.
- Promoting balance to students in a meaningful way, like the importance of rest and downtime, will teach them its importance — because the older they get, the harder a lesson that is to learn.
- Discouraging the use of laptops for note-taking in favor of taking good handwritten notes, will help students better absorb and reflect on the information being presented.
These experiences make us human
Technology continues to improve our lives significantly, but as a millennial who has worked remotely, I know its drawbacks. Virtually collaborating with my colleagues and using all the wonderfully powerful tools technology has to offer still pales in comparison to a live meeting, where I can gauge in-person reactions, dive deeper into problems and solutions, and feel the emotion of our discussions.
It’s not that technology isn’t yet good enough to mimic these experiences, it’s that having these experiences is a necessary part of being human. And the classroom is no different.
Whether for better or worse, I believe that educators will be the change-makers in our technology-addicted world. My hope is for the better.
Alanna Harvey is the co-founder and marketing director of Flipd. She comes from a family of educators and has studied the relationship students have with technology for over three years. She discusses these issues with experts and educators and shares her findings in the Flipd Blog. Contact Alanna at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to get in touch, or click the link below to sign up for a free Flipd account.