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Pros and cons of digital devices in the hands of young students

Jun. 15, 2021
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I have three kids and they love their tech tools, but I worry about the possible effects of electromagnetic radiation, and about the way in which time spent with these devices takes away from time they could be spending in more active pursuits. I also see skills and learning coming from their use of these tools. While I am clearly an advocate of technology, I also recognize that there are down sides and trade-offs that come with these advances. This guest post from Daniel Kimball reflects those realities and I look forward to hearing what readers think about this modern day dilemma. - Kelly Walsh, ps.Chief Information Officer and CISO of Westchester College, White Plains, New York

Digital devices are all the rage among young people today, across all ages. Tablets top the youngest student’s wish lists, pre-teens crave smart phones, and high school students would love to have both plus a laptop computer! MP3 players and other electronic devices are also widely used by many of today's students.

Are digital devices plugging our children into experiences that actually fuel their creativity and make them consider the world beyond their neighborhood or are they robbing our children of some of the joys of childhood? A rewarding childhood should include experiences like climbing trees, playing tag, selling lemonade and daydreaming – are these still quintessential experiences for many of today’s youth or are they too glued to their small screens to partake in these types of activities?

Let’s consider some of the pros and cons of the digital age as it reflects in the developing hands and minds of today's young people.

PROS include …

Smartphones Can Give Parents Some Piece of Mind

Want to know where your child is at all times? Give them a smart phone. You can call or text your child to confirm their whereabouts. Many smart phones also contain GPS tracking that can be activated to specify the phone’s exact location.

Every School Supply List Should Include a Computer

The reality is, a computer has become necessary to complete many homework assignments.  Students are required to research a topic, and sometimes the most current and accurate data is found online (assuming a student knows how to leverage critical thinking skills to assess the validity of the information – check out “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or, Why It's a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources,” by Susan E. Beck of the New Mexico State University Library ( more on that). School courses in latter grades will require typed reports. And even the beloved shoebox project – illustrating a summer vacation, depicting the Amazon rain forest – is enhanced with color printouts.

There’s an Awe-Inspiring Online World to Discover

The Information Age is a glorious gift to the curious child in many ways. Learn how to knit –  Identify the plants growing in the backyard – Research the family tree – Visit the depths of the ocean or the peak of the world’s tallest mountain without leaving the couch! Your child’s fondness for the search field may lead to real-life adventures later on.

Young Music Fans Can Access More Than Just The Top 40

It used to be that kids tuned into radios to listen to the latest releases.  Today, the radio may be where they are introduced to an artist or a band. But the next stop is usually online to download their favorite song. Even better, while exploring an online music store, they can sample every imaginable genre, from A Cappella to Zydeco.

Socialization & Social Learning

While this argument can go both ways (for example, the ‘heads down' nature of kids walking around staring at their cell phones has a rather unsocial aspect to it), there is surely a strong element of socialization to many of the apps that young people use, such as Facebook and other social networking tools. Another possible upside to the social nature of some applications is the potential for social learning in the instructional setting. 



The “Source Check” Solution

So here’s my approach to helping students to develop the skills to “credibility-proof” the content they encounter:

  • for younger students (say K-5), there could be an early component of the curriculum that addresses the credibility of source and content, followed by reminders as evaluation issues arise;

  • for middle grade and older students, it might be useful to implement a simple “Source check” list into assignments that involve the use of content not explicitly assigned by the instructor.

Distinct from a bibliography or list of works cited, a source check list would simply identify the location and creator of the content. The goal would be to get students to be aware of the evaluation function without explicitly requiring it in every case (which could be done instead with other tools, such as an annotated bibliography).

It seems only natural that the future course of educational technology should move from an initial focus on modes of implementation to more teacher-centric concerns about things like source evaluation and content credibility. What are your concerns in these areas? I’d be fascinated to hear about how you are addressing these issues.



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