DOES TECHNOLOGY HOLD THE KEY TO ACADEMIC PROGRESS?
A recent New York Times article summarized research on computer access in the classroom for middle school students. Contrary to widely-held beliefs, computer access, including internet access, may actually be associated with a decline in academic skills, more so for “disadvantaged students” (http:www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/opinion/can-students-have-too-much-tech.html?smid=nytcore-iphone-share&smprod=nytcore-iphone).
One study at Duke University involved close to one million students between fifth and eighth grades, finding that math and reading scores actually declined after computer access was provided. If an internet link was provided to younger students, their scores also deteriorated. Probably without supervision at home, students were likely using the devices for activities other than schoolwork.
Babies born into low-income families generally spend 40% more time in front of a screen throughout their childhood, compared to middle-class children. Without the cuddling, engaging interactions, and talking over family meals, these children often develop weaker vocabularies, which translate into poorer academic performance. By fourth grade, such low-income children are not in sync with their more affluent peers, a discrepancy that will only intensify with computer access provided in middle school.
Technology has been found to help when it is used in a task to which it is suited, such as a science simulation, or as assistance to students with learning disabilities. Teachers are a much more important variable in student success. One year with a gifted teacher in middle school for female students reduces the risk of pregnancy in high school, and increases the likelihood that a girl will go on to college, earn a living wage, and live in a better community. What works is a teacher carefully trained to apply a specific computer application to a particular topic for a particular student, as compared to a generalized use of computer software for all students. Even then, it is unclear if the skills developed will be of use to solve novel problems in other areas. Research into that question is pending.
A clear conclusion is that equal to spending on new technology for students, it is crucial to train and mentor teachers. It remains the teacher-student relationship that is the key to academic development, especially for less advantaged students. Although it may seem self-serving, a psychotherapist is a teacher as well, in a highly individualized learning relationship for the client/student. A relationship that just might have similar benefits to that noted above for middle school girls.
Dr. Solomon is a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network. A licensed psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , or 310 539-2772.
Copyright 2018 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.