The use of technology in the classroom has many proven benefits such as an increase in communication, connections to the real-world, engagement of the Net generation and new and innovative ways of acquiring knowledge. Along with all of these benefits, come some challenges. Teacher training and adoption, access to tech, cyberbullying, socio-economic and equity issues, as well as student distractions, have been some of the problems facing school boards. Not only are these challenges which educators must face, but also the issue of student well-being is at the forefront of many schools. It is imperative for educators to know how technology can impact student well-being in order to make informed decisions in their classrooms.
In his article, Graber (2014), discusses the impact of technology on the attention span of kids. Data from a Pew Internet survey of 2,500 teachers found that 87% suggest an easily distracted generation with short attention spans. On the other hand, a study by Common Sense Media, showed, that according to the teachers surveyed, technology not only helps students find information more quickly and efficiently, it also improves their ability to switch between tasks more quickly. Graber’s article signals that young brains are being rewired because of a shift in stimuli and that brains are storing keywords and not the full memories themselves. It is recommended that we consider how the environment in which students learn can adapt to the world in which they live. Additionally, fostering skills like balancing the time spent online with focused offline time and finding and evaluating useful and reliable online information is key (Graber, 2014).
In their research on adolescents, Schweizer, Berchtold, Barrense-Dias, Akre, Suris, (2017), found that smartphone owners were more likely to have sleep problems than non-owners and new owners. There was a significant difference in sleep duration, for example, owners slept on average 7.81 hours where non-owners slept on average 8.61 hours. Researchers concluded that owning a smartphone tended to increase sleep disturbance. They recommended that adolescents and parents consider the positive and negative consequences on sleep and health (Schweizer, Berchtold, Barrense-Dias, Akre, Suris, 2017).
Hyun-soo (2016), researched the extent to which online media activities are associated with the psychological well-being of adolescents. The findings suggest that time spent online had a harmful effect on adolescent psychological well-being. For example, there was a strong and negative relationship between online activities and self-reported mental health and suicidal ideation. Researchers suggested that this outcome was due in part to social and network variables (Hyun-soo, 2016).
There has been much discussion on the importance of face-to-face communication versus online communication. Davis (2013), completed a study that confirmed that positive relationships with one’s parents and friends contribute to a positive sense of self among adolescents. Digital natives still require supportive, face-to-face relationships in order to thrive. Adolescents who were motivated to go online to communicate and maintain their relationships with existing friends tended to experience higher self-concept clarity. Adolescents who were motivated to go online to express and explore different aspects of their identities tended to experience lower self-concept clarity, partly as a result of the role of low friendship quality (Davis, 2013).
All of this complicates an educator’s choice to use technology in the classroom. Consideration needs to be given to the following:
- The amount of time spent using technology
- The purpose and specific use of technology
- The type of communication being utilized
- The monitoring of student well-being
5 Crazy Ways Social Media Is Changing Your Brain Right Now. (2014). Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HffWFd_6bJ0
Are you Lost in the World Like Me? (2016). Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VASywEuqFd8
Davis, K. (2013). Young people’s digital lives: The impact of interpersonal relationships and digital media use on adolescents’ sense of identity. Computers in Human Behavior. 29:6, pgs 2281-2293. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2013.05.022
Graber, D. (2014, Apr 30). Kids, Tech and Those Shrinking Attention Spans. Available from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-graber/kids-tech-and-those-shrinking-attention-spans_b_4870655.html
Hyun-soo Kim, H. (2016). The impact of online social networking on adolescent psychological well-being (WB): a population-level analysis of Korean school-aged children. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. 1-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02673843.2016.1197135
Schweizer, A., Berchtold, A., Barrense-Dias, Y., , J-C. (2017) Adolescents with a smartphone sleep less than their peers. European Journal of Pediatrics 176: 131, 131-136. doi:10.1007/s00431-016-2823-6