Two Sides of Technology Use

Hannah Ford ’19

When considering technology use in the classroom, two realities are undisputed: digital technology has revolutionized the way students learn, and technology skills and information literacy are mandatory for students to be competitive in the current job market. There are, however, various opinions on this assertion, and Sidwell Friends defers this determination to the faculty and the administration.

The Sidwell Handbook states, “The use of [digital] devices within the classroom is subject to determination by the faculty and the administration” and their use must be “consistent with the School’s honor code and its ‘Responsible Use Policy.’” The Responsible Use Policy promotes digital citizenship and can be summed up by the included phrase, “Let your life speak – in person and online.”

Proponents of digital devices in the classroom believe technology can be a useful educational tool, citing instant access to information and teaching materials as one of the biggest benefits. In a Pew Research Center survey, 75 percent of teachers surveyed said that the Internet search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills and had made students more self-sufficient researchers. With reservations, Dr. Laura Barrosse-Antle and Hayes Davis agree technology has a place in the classroom. While Barrosse-Antle maintains a place in her classroom for students to store cell phones during class, she explains, “There are times when laptops and cell phones are necessary for whatever I have planned for class such as interacting with simulations, taking photos of reactions or timing processes in lab, calculating the answers to problems, and checking keys online.”  

Davis stresses the virtues of physical books to his students, but acknowledges, “The rise in the use of electronic texts has made reconciling [his] ideals and the reality of class more difficult.” He prefers students keep their laptops closed if activities do not require their use.

Critics of technology use in the classroom are adamant that digital devices are a distraction that inhibits student’s performance. The same Pew Research survey found that nearly 87 percent of teachers believe that technologies were creating an easily distracted generation with short attention spans. Sixty percent said it hindered students’ ability to write and communicate face to face, and almost half said it hurt critical thinking ability to do homework.

All of the teachers interviewed shared similar sentiments. History teacher Steve Steinbach strongly discourages, but does not totally prohibit, laptops in the classroom. He clarifies, “All the studies I’ve read suggest students synthesize information far better by taking handwritten notes, as opposed to simply typing away. And discussions work far better when everyone is looking at and listening to each other, as opposed to staring at screens. As for cell phones: never!” Likewise, Davis feels “laptops disrupt the communal feeling of people looking at each other and focusing on the discussion happening in the room.” Barrosse-Antle also counsels her students on the negative effects of cell phones on fluid intelligence and working memory. She said she “encourages her students to separate themselves from their phones whenever they are working on tasks requiring their best concentration.”

The teachers at Sidwell Friends acknowledge the onward march of technology but remain cognizant and concerned about the two sides of technology and its impact on their students.


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