Using vs. Understanding

I ran across an interesting piece in the New York Times over the weekend about differences between the ways rich people and poor people use screens with children, with poorer schools leaning heavily on technology and more well-to-do families going as far as banning devices from the home entirely.

ClassroomMoveableFurnitureITESMCCM 02
The jury is still out on exactly how screens affect kids’ brains, but I’ve noticed things with my own children. How the screen captures attention. How desperate the need is to watch videos. How much of a chore it is to get them to stop watching. Surely there’s something there and we limit it as much as possible. But their value as an educational tool is something that I’ve questioned for a while. I think technology has a place to augment and supplement learning and teaching, but not to replace regular classrooms.

But what caught my attention was later in the story when a former Intel and Microsoft executive was quoted on how technology is sold as the holy grail for education and how not having access to it will cripple students, but how the big new things (Big Data™, AI, etc.) will require skills that won’t come about simply because kids have an iPhone in elementary school. This made me think of something my high school biology teacher once said, “You are all driving but have no idea what’s under the hood.” In that case it was about how our generation talked about sex a lot, but had no real knowledge of it, but the saying applies to technology. I have run into so many people (young and old) who are constantly glued to their device but have no idea how to figure out anything technical. There’s no concept of how things work. How data travels back and forth between your phone and remote computers through the internet and either a Wifi or LTE signal. Someone with critical thinking skills would be able to diagnose something with a few moments of thought and questioning, but it seems that a growing number of people are either not developing those skills, or have let them atrophy.

So we won’t turn off the phones and tablets just yet. We’ll limit time on devices, but also make an effort to teach critical thinking. To encourage questions, think about how things work, and focus deeper. It’s something we all have to work on and keep practicing, especially if we’re going to guide the next generation. Simply using technology isn’t enough. We need to have at least some understanding of it, even if we’re not going to be Big Data™ architects.