Editorial: Screens Are NOT a Hoax


We try to keep our ears to the ground here when it comes to the public buzzing around educational technology in schools. To be properly responsive and timely, we should know what people are saying about the various tools and techniques out in the world. On top of that, I’m a 5th grade teacher so I want to know what’s what. Often there are arguments about this piece of pedagogy and that new tablet, but rarely does the entire entity known as EDTECH get disparaged as a whole. And even more rarely does it get the title “Hoax” hung on it by a major magazine.

But here we are. As loathe as I am to provide links to the post, I need you to know what I’m talking about- a TIME.com editorial by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras entitled “Screens in Schools are a $60 Billion Hoax”. And right off the bat you must be thinking, “Man, when TIME does clickbaity titles they do them big.” And you’re probably thinking that “hoax” seems like an awfully strong word. And then you might be thinking, “Wait, how many zeros are there in sixty billion?” A lot. A lot of zeros. Which is good, because many of the points and evidence Dr. Kardaras uses in his editorial add up to exactly zero.

Let’s be up front- CUE is an edtech nonprofit. So it’s fair to say that we have a vested interest in this editorial being dead wrong. According to Dr. Kardaras, CUE would be part of the hoax of edtech. We run camps and conferences and professional development centered around the idea of using technology well in the classroom. But a nonprofit enriches society as a whole, not an individual. Further, I am a full-time teacher, and I was using edtech in my classroom long before I knew what CUE was. I, as a professional teacher, see the value of edtech everyday in my classrooms and I can’t stand the idea of parents or other teachers reading what he’s written and believing he’s right. 

Yep, video games will help you kill people. Right. from http://observer.com/2016/08/video-games-and-ipads-are-ruining-your-childs-brain/

Yep, video games will help you kill people. Right. from http://observer.com/2016/08/video-games-and-ipads-are-ruining-your-childs-brain/

Prior to this piece, Dr. Kardaras also argues that video game addiction is exactly the same as cocaine addiction and spins every gamer’s favorite lie that video games are to blame for violence. I bring this up because it’s important to realize where the guy saying “Screens in schools are a hoax” is coming from. He’s also pinning Sandy Hook on Call of Duty.

And while he cites data that claims technology hurts scores, it’s not hard to find data that says technology helps scores and again and again. His data does come from the UK, and up until now he was talking about American schools, but we’ll let that pass. In fact, in the study that he links to, and you’re going to like this, the summary actually says:

That’s straight from the Summary of Key Points section of the pdf that Dr. Kardaras uses to say technology in the classroom is bad. Do you see where it says it can be powerful? That’s not my favorite part though. My favorite part comes right after, when the study he is using to say educational technology is a hoax says, “particularly when there is regular and frequent use…” The study says we should be using tech regularly. And it says it’s especially good for special education kids. Why is Dr Kardaras suggesting we do away with something that is helping our lowest achieving students? I have noticed that intelligent and pedagogically sound usage of technology can and does improve the scores and confidence of the students in my classroom. Not all the time roboteaching, which is the world Dr. Kardaras seems to think we live in, but smart integration.

The cited research claims that overexposure to screens make kids more likely candidates for ADHD and what one person has decided to call Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS). It should be noted this is not a medically recognized disorder, it’s just linked to in Dr. Kardaras’ editorial like it is one. The cycle goes like this- It looks like ADHD diagnoses are on the rise. Kids are also using screens more. Screens cause ADHD. It’s like that old cause-and-effect example that murders go up in the summer, and so do ice cream sales, so ice cream makes people murderous.

And this brings us to the crux of the problem with Dr. Kardaras’ “hoax” claim- Educational technology is a tool. No one actually believes it can solve all of education’s woes. There isn’t an administrator, teacher, coach, or student out there who honestly believes that through iPads and Chromebooks we will achieve Education Nirvana, scores will soar to unseen heights, 100% of students will be engaged, and unicorns will be parked in every parking lot. I love teaching with computers and iPads and drones and Spheros and all the other tools the 21st century provides. I also like crayons and colored pencils and paper and real books. I, unlike Dr. Kardaras, understand that the reality and norm of education is differentiation. “The proper tool for the proper job,” as my set building teacher used to say back at the University of the Pacific theater department.

He did link to a few other pieces of evidence. Here, we see a report that’s sixteen years old.

Since nothing about edtech or its usage in schools has changed in nearly two decades this is probably a worthwhile read. It’s also valuable to know that technology is not part of society and cannot help solve social challenges. I wonder if the people who participated in the Arab Spring or #BlackLivesMatter movement are aware that technology cannot help social challenges. Both of those movements, by the way, impact our classrooms and are easier to teach about because we have screens in class so students can find information for themselves. I’m sure Dr. Kardaras would rather they wait for the book.

Oh, by the way, that study he uses in his argument that edtech is a giant hoax? It says, and I quote,

from http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/is-technology-producing-a-decline-79127

What? The study he cites in his post about screens being bad actually tells schools to use screens. Weird, it’s like he’s cherry picking only what backs up his position. The same article also says, “Many students do not read for pleasure and have not for decades.” Decades, huh? Like, longer than edtech in the form of screens in student hands has been around? So maybe the link between screens and a decline in reading for pleasure isn’t as strong as he might suggest? So I’m not accused of cherry picking, that article does say that when students were allowed to surf the web during a lecture they processed less of the lecture. Now, I’m not a professional educator…oh wait, yes I am. And as a professional educator I’d have to say that letting students surf the web while I’m trying to talk is pretty impressively bad pedagogy. So yes, if your teaching strategies are already bad technology will not make them better. Glad we cleared that up.

I want to repeat that this entire piece hinges on the idea that we are using only technology to teach. That the edtech companies have swindled us all and we are in the thrall of Big Screen. Not only does he think that we are only using technology, but that we are only using it badly. That we somehow think good teaching is parking a class full of kids in a room with iPads and setting them to work. Do some teachers do that? Probably, yes. Are their kids loving it? No. But you know what that’s not called? Balance. Balance is when you take what works from a variety of areas and use them together in harmony. Balance is what good teachers do. Perhaps Dr. Kardaras would argue that I’m being too generous in my estimation of teachers, who I work with and run trainings for and sit in trainings with. Maybe he thinks most teachers are bad and we’re just looking for a panacea. Perhaps he’s never been in a classroom where technology is used well. If that’s the case then Doctor, I formally invite you to my class. Room 17, Powell Valley Elementary School. Oregon. You pick the day and time. You could even drop in unannounced. Come watch my kids work. Come learn something about teaching with technology firsthand.

Dr. Kardaras wants us to see education technology as a hoax and throw it away. Quick! Before we do irreparable damage to our kids (who will go home and use their smart phones and tablets in an uneducated way). But in every study that he cites, in every piece of research in his editorial, the argument is never made to throw away technology. It’s always to use technology better. Be smart about its use. That technology is not for everything all the time. He constantly spins the smallest hints into things that backs up a conclusion he reached long before starting his research

Saying edtech and screen time are for never? Claiming we’re hurting our kids? That’s the hoax.

mt6Doug Robertson is the CUE blog editor and an eleventh-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher andTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome) and an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words).  Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST. He is currently running a Donors Choose to get his class more Chromebooks and alternative seating and would love help.

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Doug Robertson

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