Edtech has always been a fascinating field of study. Teachers and developers alike have jointly explored new ideas and tried new hardware and software in the classroom for decades.
However, the arrival and rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in late 2019 and early 2020 quickly shoved educational technology into the spotlight. Where, once upon a time, edtech was a gradual process of seeing “what could be,” suddenly it was the way to keep educational lifelines open in a quarantined world.
This shift in the educational paradigm has thrown into light some of the pros and cons of remote education — as well as how important it is to maintain a balance of both online and offline learning.
Technology in education: the good and the bad
Pandemic or not, there are many clear benefits that come with using technology in the classroom (either virtually or in-person.) For instance, technology:
- Enables greater communication and interactions between students;
- Helps encourage increased engagement from students;
- Trains students to adapt to and utilize ever-evolving technology;
- Encourages students to take control of their learning journey.
The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced all of these truths. Students and teachers have maintained a different-yet-profound connection throughout the ongoing challenges in a way that has never before been possible.
For all of the positive vibes, though, the old adage still rings true that you can have “too much of a good thing.” The need to shift to a remote learning school model has raised various concerns for students. Two of the most alarming of these potential problems are:
- Screen time: Children already struggled with excessive screen time well before a pandemic locked them in their homes. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8-17-year-olds already spent an average of 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen — and that’s just for entertainment media. Adding countless hours spent participating in e-learning pushes children far past the 1-2 hours of recommended screen time per day.
- Lack of physical activity: Childhood obesity already impacted roughly 15-20% of the younger American population before the pandemic. With children being asked to sit in front of screens and participate in e-learning five days a week, nine months a year, the chances of an increase in weight gain, a general lack of exercise, and even harm to their eyesight are naturally going to become greater concerns.
While edtech is a lifeline for the entire educational community at the moment, worries like excessive screen time and a lack of physical activity make striking a balance in online and offline activity essential.
Finding the perfect balance between online and offline learning
Like any quality tool, finding the greatest use of the plethora of edtech available simply requires learning how to use it correctly. Here are a few suggestions for ways to incorporate your remote learning tools into a well-balanced educational routine.
To begin, identify the most effective and productive activities to focus on with your available technology, such as:
- Keeping communication open: Use video chats and text-driven applications to instruct, create interactive discussions, and facilitate group learning.
- Creating special events: Use technology to keep students invested in the learning process through inviting guest speakers, telling stories, playing games, or creating reward systems — like points towards a prize, an online party, or an extra game at the end of the day.
- Involving parents: Emails, video chats, and texts (in moderation) can be used to maintain communication with parents, enabling them to become involved advocates for their child’s virtual learning on the homefront.
- Developing skills: Finally, remember that the simple act of having students communicate, brainstorm, or even create a presentation using edtech is helping them develop a variety of skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
These are all excellent ways to utilize tech in the classroom. However, they should be offset by a heavy dose of encouragement for students to unplug and learn apart from their devices. A few suggestions for this include:
- Handwritten assignments: These encourage students to focus on something other than a screen and use their hands in a more artistic medium than typing.
- Creative activities: Building with blocks or Legos and assembling crafts or using puppets are excellent ways to get students away from the screens and engaged in a hands-on educational process.
- Outdoor learning: This has many benefits and can consist of anything from playing or generic yardwork to specific assignments, such as going for a hike or experimenting with geocaching.
When your only chance to provide education to your students is via edtech and a screen-heavy learning process, exploring options to get students up and moving isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential.
Getting the most out of edtech
While all of these are good starting points, it’s important to note that each situation can vary dramatically from the next. As such, it’s crucial that each educator avoids a formulaic mentality. Instead, look to adopt a flexible approach to addressing balance as you consider the two-edged-sword-nature of your educational technology tools.
If you can do that, you’ll be able to use your edtech to impact your students in the best way possible while consciously avoiding the potential negative side effects that too much technology — especially in the virtual classroom — can have.
Charlie Fletcher is a writer and former preschool teacher from the lovely “city of trees”, Boise, Idaho. When not writing, she can be found exploring the great outdoors or geeking out over the latest Game of Thrones fan theories.