School & District Management

Teachers on Tech: Good for Student Learning, Bad for Student Health

By Benjamin Herold — April 06, 2018 3 min read
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A new nationally representative Gallup poll offers more evidence that teachers are of two different minds when it comes to educational technology.

On one hand, the 497 teachers surveyed last month expressed a tepid belief in technology’s educational value: 41 percent said they view digital devices as “mostly helpful” to students’ education, and another 30 percent described devices as “neither helpful nor harmful.”

At the same time, though, a whopping 69 percent of those teachers said digital devices are “mostly harmful” to students’ mental health, and 55 percent described them as mostly harmful to students’ physical health.

Those numbers fit into a somewhat cloudy overall picture of teachers, technology, and learning.

So far, for example, the evidence on the impact of technology on student achievement is mixed. A 2016 meta-analysis of 15 years’ worth of research studies, for example, found that 1-to-1 laptop programs had, on average, a statistically significant positive impact on student test scores in English/language arts, writing, math, and science. But a previous international study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that frequent computer use by students was associated with worse learning outcomes.

A raft of prior studies has also shown that even when technology is available in classrooms, teachers are slow to transform the ways they teach.

And even as digital devices have flooded into classrooms, concerns about the impact of technology on student learning and development have started to grow. In February, for example, the nonprofit group Common Sense Media—long a proponent of responsible technology use in schools—helped launch a “Truth About Tech” campaign, to warn families and educators about the dangers of technology addiction.

Differences by Grade Level and Age

The new Gallup poll also highlights some interesting differences of opinion among teachers.

Elementary and middle-school teachers, for example, were relatively bullish on ed tech, with 48 percent viewing digital devices as mostly helpful to students’ education, compared to 23 percent who saw devices as mostly harmful.

High school teachers, on the other hand, were just about evenly split, with 36 percent saying digital devices are mostly helpful, and 34 percent saying they are mostly harmful.

The pollsters also found significant differences by age.

Among teachers under 40 years old, 51 percent said devices were mostly helpful, and 22 percent said they were mostly harmful to students’ education. But just 36 percent of older teachers viewed devices positively, and 32 percent said they were mostly harmful.

And in a separate study, Gallup found that majorities of U.S. parents of school-aged children were optimistic about both the learning value and health effects of digital devices on their children. A full 87 percent of parents said they believed devices would be “mostly helpful” for their children’s education.

The takeaway from Gallup?

“Despite major growth in the educational technology industry and widespread adoption of digital devices in schools across the U.S., only a slight plurality of teachers see these tools as helpful to students’ education—and decisive majorities see them as harmful to students’ physical or mental health,” the group concluded in a press release.

“The apparent divide between educators and parents on this matter further suggests additional research is necessary to better understand how technology can aid the learning process.”

See also:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.