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What’s Getting in the Way of More-Effective Digital Learning?

By Alyson Klein — March 08, 2022 2 min read
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Districts purchased thousands of new devices during the pandemic, and teachers quickly got up to speed on digital teaching methods. But now that most schools are back to in-person learning, educators are running up against hurdles as they seek to broaden their use of education technology.

At the top of the list are the challenges caused by digital distractions. Working on devices can be very distracting for students, who will often wander off task. (Classic example: watching YouTube videos during virtual instruction).

In fact, 60 percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders flagged tech distractions as a big stumbling block to reach deeper, more meaningful tech usage, according to a survey conducted Jan. 26 to Feb. 7 by the EdWeek Research Center. Nearly as many educators—59 percent—cited parents’ challenges in helping their kids use school technology at home.

Because his district provided students with school-issued devices, parents often expect school officials to make sure the kids use them appropriately at home, said Todd Ostrander, the district technology coordinator for the Richland school district in Wisconsin. But that’s not realistic, he said.

“They’ll go home and they’ll watch stupid YouTube videos,” he said. “We can certainly put filters in place. But, obviously, filters are not all-encompassing,” he said. “Parents want us to make sure that they don’t go to this website or don’t go to that website. You have to try to explain to them, we can’t really control every minute of the day that [their] child [is] on a device.”

More than half of educators—56 percent—pointed to fears that expanding the use of technology in schools could mean much more screen time for students. And about the same percentage said that students’ difficulty in getting online at home remains a problem.

And Mark Ryan, the superintendent of the North Valley Military Institute, a charter school in Southern California, said both teachers and students are “tired of being in front of a screen all day.” They complain about problems stemming from the blue light that computers and phones emit, saying it causes tired eyes and blurred vision.

Ryan, who still teaches two math classes, said he and his students are happy to solve problems by hand on the classroom whiteboard instead of a Chromebook screen.

On the flip side, some students are so used to learning on screens that they have trouble adjusting to traditional instruction, said Tim Scott, the principal of Alta Elementary School in Iowa.

“Kids are totally fixated on, ‘I want to be on the computer. I want to be on the computer,’” he said. “Literally, some of them will throw tantrums when our regular learning is taking place because they want to be on the electronic device.”

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