BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - If you have a school-age child, you know well the idea of technology in the classroom.
Laptops and iPads have become the norm for students of all ages. There's even the suggestion out there that if your kid doesn't have it, that perhaps they're not getting a leg up in the classroom.
“Here we call it next technologies for learning, NTL,” says John Weisser, Executive Director of Technology and Information Services with the Bloomington School District.
Bloomington Schools have mastered the one-to-one concept. That means one laptop for every student in the district.
“Grades 3 through 12, every student is carrying a device," says Weisser.
Digital content is much cheaper than text books, saving school districts thousands. It's immediate, adaptable and accessible outside of school walls. After three years of implementation, Weisser says he’s seen changes in the students with the technology.
"I believe it's having an impact," he says. “Kids who write more because they have access to writing tools. Kids are more collaborative because they grew up in a collaborative world where they had access to collaborative tools."
About half of all Minnesota districts describe themselves as one-to-one. More are on the road to getting there.
“Young people are going to use technology, so we're going to use technology as teachers as well," says Doug Paulson with the Minnesota Department of Education.
Paulson says in contrast to the pencils and paper of the past, computers are the present and future.
“We want to make sure that the learning that students have is authentic, it's real to them, it's connected to their environment and we know they are engaged in digital technology in multiple different ways, and so I think it's important to meet our students where they're at and support them in their learning in that way,” says Paulson.
So it’s a sign of the times, but can we measure if it’s making our kids' education better?
“Often times we think about technology as our answer but we haven't really thought about our question first."
It seems as though the question should have an answer. If we’re putting this technology in our kid’s hands, shouldn’t we know if it’s actually making them smarter? Shouldn’t we be able to measure that?
“When we look at the high functioning schools, it's the schools that have multiple different types of teaching practices, multiple different learning types of experiences for students, the teacher is actively involved in engaging the young people in their learning. And so it's not about the technology haves or have nots, but it's about how they're being used."
So, the straight answer is, no, we don't have a measure of its effectiveness. But, his point is, technology is just one tool in a teacher's toolbox.
"Technology is a tool? I mean my automobile is a wonderful tool, but I'm not going to flip my car keys to my 7-year-old,” says Dr. Nicholas Kardaras.
Dr. Kardaras is a licensed psychotherapist, addiction specialist and author. He also does not beat around the bush.
"Show me one study that shows a Chromebook in first grade, second grade, or third grade, leads to better educational outcomes in middle school or high school. There isn't any," says Dr. Kardaras. "I would think there are some benefits at the older ages. Kindergarten through elementary school I really see absolutely no benefit and actually quite a bit of clinical neurological damage.”
"We know that neurologically there's been over 15 brain imaging studies that show that the frontal cortex, which is the executive functioning, actually atrophies and shrinks with exposure to screens in a similar way that it does with chronic substance addiction,” Dr. Kardaras continues.
And, here’s the part that parents need to hear because it not only applies to school, but computer and screen time at home, too.
“Laptops are too hyper stimulating for that early of a developmental age, so we find that it really increases the ADHD effect, and it hinders their cognitive development. It also hinders their creativity,” he says.
Want further proof, besides the medical studies, that technology is not helpful and actually harmful to kids under 10? He says just look at what the technology inventors themselves do with their own kids.
“If you look at the New York Times article that looked at Silicon Valley and schools, most of the engineers and the tech people were putting their kids in non-technology Waldorf schools."
So, we went to the Waldorf school in Minneapolis to ask why they haven't jumped on board the technology train.
“This idea that the teacher is taking the material, mastering it, and sitting in front of the class, and thinking about you, and the other students, and how to deliver that curriculum, so it's meeting you and your particular learning style, because there aren't three different learning styles, there's really as many learning styles as there are people,” says Caroline Askew, Director of Admissions at City of Lakes Waldorf School in Minneapolis.
“We aren't seeing how a piece of technology can do that better or replace that, but it could be a distraction from that,” she says.
Waldorf isn't anti-technology, they just believe it should be reserved for older students. They are a private school, so not everyone has that kind of access, but they have seen much success in educational outcomes when it comes to graduation rates.
That brings us back to the beginning - and Bloomington.
"Can we measure it? We measure it in things like the amount of accessibility students have. We measure it through asking teachers if this is aiding in their instruction and all of those measures are high," says John Weisser.
"I think the research will bear out that we are on a path - even though it's sometimes windy, this path - we're on the right path."