In today’s society, the advance of technology is associated with the advance of modern education. More and more schools are supplying students with their own devices, such as iPads, laptops or Chromebooks. These one-to-one initiatives allow students to access the internet, digital textbooks and other course materials, both throughout the school day and at home.
This fall, CHS instated a one-to-one program, supplying each student with a Chromebook. The student collects the device at the beginning of each year and returns it after second semester, receiving the same device each year. Gene Gladstone, CHS educational technologist, explained that the school’s introduction of a one-to-one program was justified by an extensive district-wide study on technology.
“Two-and-a-half years ago, the district started a study K-12 to look at the needs of the schools for technology,” Gladstone said. “It was about what devices support learning, and what are the best devices that support our curriculum. And other the course of an 18-month study, we decided that the high school needed to become mobile.”
While some have questioned the introduction of the Chromebooks into daily CHS life, junior Kate Lay appreciates the new tool.
“Chromebooks helped me be more organized this school year,” Lay said. “It’s helpful being able to sort notes and assignments in google drive rather than in a traditional binder. The only thing I would change is the battery life – mine dies pretty quickly.”
As Clayton moves in the direction of technology, other schools are doing the opposite.
Waldorf School in Silicon Valley, California, has banned technology. Some of the students that attend this offline school include the children of the chief technology officer of ebay, and children of employees of Google, Apple and Yahoo, according to a 2011 article in the New York Times.
This creative, hands-on school which has a demographic similar to that of CHS has banned all screens in classrooms, and even frowns upon them at home.
Closer to home, St. Louis’ own John Burroughs School has a similar philosophy.
While technology is not banned completely, JBS regulates student use of technology strictly. Burroughs’ director of academics, Christopher Front, spoke on the private school’s unique policy.
“We use technology when we think it adds to the educational goals of particular situations, but when it doesn’t do so, or detracts from those goals, we do not allow it,” Front said. “For example, on any given day, you’ll find lessons being taught with laptops or iPads, and in many rooms you’ll find lessons centered around group discussions. In the common areas during school hours we do not allow students to use personal devices because we want to encourage face-to-face discussions that promote community and empathy.”
Technology was never banned suddenly at JBS; it simply has never been introduced the way other schools have pushed one-to-one programs. They often reevaluate their decision, asking themselves what is best for the learning and social health of students.
“There was never a single moment that we implemented the policy. Instead, we revisit our policies often and ask the question: will this benefit or detract from learning and community? For example, we found that there was a very high need for access to laptops when the 8th and 9th graders were working on their history term papers. For that period of the year, we allow students to bring in their personal devices, as it made sense educationally,” Front said. “On the other hand, we have held firm on the no-mobile phone policy because we find that students have more meaningful interactions when they don’t allow smart-phone distractions to get in the way.”
This non-traditional learning method isn’t accepted by everyone, yet JBS insists that their method creates a safer and healthier environment for their students to learn in.
“We often get questions from people in the community about why we do things as we do — we are an outlier in the area for sure,” Front said. “And we used to get more pushback, but increasingly parents are relieved that their kids have built in breaks from screens in their day, as more and more concerns are being raised about the unintended impact of unlimited screen access, particularly on the developing brain.”
One such concern is preparing students for college and their lives after school. Technology is sweeping the country, and being proficient in that area could make or break a career. CHS economics teacher Daniel Glossenger worries that removing technology from curriculum could do more harm than administrators might first realize.
“Over the summer, I looked at a lot of the schools in the basis charter school network in Arizona. And though school rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, some of these were the best ranked schools,” Glossenger said. “And most of these schools have completely removed technology from the classroom. Students don’t have it, and teachers don’t use it. It’s pencil and paper all the way, and I was shocked to learn that this summer … I just wonder how they do it. But I also wonder if they are doing a disservice to students who did not grow up in a tech-saturated home by denying them that opportunity. I think schools that are trying to move towards a tech-free environment are doing more of a disservice than they intend. There’s a lot of students who rely on schools to teach them how to use technology. Spreadsheets, document editors, those are things that we have to teach if we want to do our duty as educators.”
To try and combat this concern, JBS teaches computer skills to its students in order to ensure that this will not be an issue.
“Over the years, some adults have been concerned that our students will be unprepared for college tech use, but our surveys of our alums have not revealed that to be the case. To be sure, we have revamped our computer science curriculum, though, so that our students possess the necessary skills to use computers for their educational needs,” Front said.
As the world continues to change, Burroughs stays open to change as well. They continuously rethink their program, ensuring that proper research is done in order to best help their students.
There is a growing body of research that shows that one-to-one programs not only do not increase the quality of learning, they actually detract from learning. Many college professors are now forbidding students from using laptops in their classes. We just want to be sure that we balance the advantages and disadvantages of technology, and do so thoughtfully.”
— Christopher Front // Director of Academics, John Burroughs School
“The policy will no doubt continue to evolve, but the core values and goals are unlikely to change,” Front said. “There is a growing body of research that shows that one-to-one programs not only do not increase the quality of learning, and actually detract from learning. Many college professors are now forbidding students from using laptops in their classes. We just want to be sure that we balance the advantages and disadvantages of technology, and do so thoughtfully.”
Burroughs junior Sarah Herbster recognizes how learning in a place where laptops and cell phones are regulated has helped her.
“Although technology has definitely made life easier for most students, I appreciate how Burroughs has not allowed students to use computers in the classroom,” Herbster said. “When I talk to my friends from other schools who are able to use a computer in a classroom, I often hear that they can be a distraction.”
When she started her school search back in middle school, she toured schools with both regulated technology and a one-to-one program.
“I remember when I was applying for secondary school, I toured a school with school-issued laptops. During my visit, my guide let me play on it, and I remember thinking ‘I don’t really like this,’” she said. “I looked around the classroom and all the other kids were staring at a screen.”
The learning style at JBS helps Herbster learn in a way that promotes a way of thinking that engages her.
She is motivated by the face-to-face learning taught there.
“At Burroughs, students are always engaged in the discussion and taking notes, instead of looking at a computer. You get a sense that everyone in the classroom actually wants to learn the material because they are so focused. As someone who gets easily distracted, I feel like a computer would stop me from listening to the teacher and my peers,” Herbster said.
Additionally, she doesn’t feel limited by the technology regulations.
“Although Burroughs is tech-free in the classroom, it doesn’t mean we don’t have access to computers on campus. Our library is fully stocked with computers so we are able to access our online syllabus at any point. I do wish JBS would let us use our phones during our free periods though. Having a tech free classroom experience definitely makes me more engaged in the conversation or lecture, and I’m able to listen to my classmates as well.”
Aiello doesn’t think that such regulated technology is a practical and sustainable option for students growing up in 2018.
“We’ve talked about this a little bit, there have been some some pockets of conversations here among the adults,” Aiello said. “I think the Social Studies Department definitely feels like we should maybe be taking a little bit more of the lead. I think that it’s noble of [Burroughs] to try and do that. I think that’s unrealistic.”
Instead of regulating electronic devices, Aiello believes that students should learn how to respectfully use these devices in a safe way that benefits the education and mental health of students.
“To pretend like this is not the lives that you guys are going to be living is silly,” Aiello said. “Instead, I think we should be having more intentional curriculum, and even maybe a whole course on responsible use of technology and digital citizenship. And right now we sprinkle it in drops and a particular teacher might be kind of passionate about it.”
In Aiello’s opinion, education is the answer to the problems that technology has the possibility to present.
CHS students were issued individual Chromebooks this year as part of a new one-to-one computer policy implemented by the district, but many students did not find the new devices helpful.
“I would love for us in the humanities to look at doing some stuff when, whether it’s developing an actual course or having some lessons, whether it be through health classes, social studies, classes, whatever, I think that it’s a little bit silly on our part to pretend like we should not be helping out with this,” Aiello said, “this should be part of the education.”
In addition to the challenges and benefits of technology in an educational sense, social media is emerging as a major aspect of the issue as more and more teenagers sign on every day. According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens report having or having access to a smartphone. And 45 percent admit to being online almost constantly.
“We had a professional development day and we had a couple of speakers come in from a group called West County Psychological Associates,” Aiello said. “And the title of their talk was social media and teenagers, you know, lack of connection in the age of connectedness or something like that. And I reached out to them, because I know that as a parent, as a teacher, I have seen such a change in the last five to 10 years of students. And the one change that I can definitely say has happened for us and them is having phones and having home computers and personal laptops and all that kind of stuff.”
Although 31 percent of U.S. teens reported that social media had a positive effect on their lives, 24 percent said that it had a negative effect, materializing in the form of cyberbullying, lack of personal contact, distractions, addiction and much more.
“We’re trying to find out if there’s correlation, but also causation, but we definitely see that kids who have a lot more electronics have a lot more stress and anxiety and other mental problems. Does one cause the other…it’s also hard to say, ‘No, they’re not related at all, it’s just a coincidence,’” Aiello said.
Aiello mentions added stress that comes hand-in-hand with social media. Ideas such as the “fear of missing out” and unrealistic life perceptions are expressed with social media.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I was missing out on. For you guys, every second of every day, you’re constantly seeing what everybody else is doing is so much better than what you’re doing, and there’s no way you can possibly compete. There’s no way you can keep up with that,” Aiello said. “But of course, it’s not the real life that they’re posting. It’s all the best part. And so our perception of what is reality has been changed so much by technology and media. And yet we all feel like we want to live up to this incredibly unrealistic, perfect lifestyle. So we constantly are setting ourselves up for being unhappy and fearing and feeling a sense of failure.”
Our perception of what is reality has been changed so much by technology and media. We all feel like we want to live up to this incredibly unrealistic, perfect lifestyle. So we constantly are setting ourselves up for being unhappy and fearing and feeling a sense of failure.”
— David Aiello, History
Likewise, social media can have negative effects in the interpersonal relationships of teens. In this day and age, face-to-face interaction is not as much of a necessity.
“The most significant way [that social media has affected students] is the lack of human interaction. The reason why you spend so much time growing up around your family is for you to get practice at having normal interactions,” Aiello said. “If all you ever do is text and Instagram and Snapchat with peers who don’t have much more wisdom about those things than you do, you’re rightly then very reluctant to have face-to-face interactions with [people], especially adults. So I have definitely noticed a trend in my students not being as good at actually talking to teachers about questions or issues or anything at all.”
CHS students are not unaware of the problem that social media creates. Although in comparison to JBS, Clayton may seem to have lax technology and WiFi regulations; however, restricted wifi throughout the Clayton school district has been a beneficial decision regarding the social media usage of students.
“I often bury my nose in my phone to avoid talking to anyone in the halls,” Lay said. “However, having limited access with the school WiFi has forced me to come out of my comfort zone. I now look forward to passing periods to say hi to my friends, teachers and peers, it’s always nice to be greeted by someone while walking to class.”
If technology and social media can cause developmental and social roadblocks with high schoolers, junior high students presented with the same materials may be struggling even more. Mark Snyder, a guidance counselor at Wydown Middle School spoke on the issue.
“I entered the district 11 years ago and just given the access that students have [to technology], it is becoming earlier and earlier that kids are getting their hands on their phone,” Snyder said. “They are not fully aware of all the nuances of social communication.”
Considering everything that comes hand in hand with entering middle school, social media and technology add another layer of drama to the already dramatic lives of a pre-teen.
“It’s like giving an 11 year old a Harley Davidson after they’ve only known how to ride a bike for three or four years,” Snyder said. “I use that same analogy for cell phone technology because it feels like they don’t have the skills to manage all of the apps, the social media; just given the impulsivity that most people have before they really have well thought out idea, it can wreak havoc. It can cause a lot of issues. As a result of that, there’s been a big increase in the amount of social issues that result from misunderstandings from social media and texting even.”
Some high schools like John Burroughs have implemented programs to reduce technology use at school, while others like Clayton have encouraged the use of technology through one-to-one programs.
The chair of the John Burroughs School counseling and wellness department Jennifer Jones agrees with Snyder’s sentiment; thus supporting their schools policy of prohibiting cell phones during the school day, as well as regulating other forms of technology.
“I’ve been here for eight years. And that decision was made prior to that. But we certainly revisit that decision fairly frequently,” Jones said. “And I think that the sort of philosophical background to that is that we want our students to connect with each other. Our head of school always says we want them looking up and at each other, not down at a device. And so that has been sort of our driving understanding of why we don’t do sort of a one to one program.”
The rules at JBS make it so that any cell phone use during the day, even during a lunch, free or passing period is not allowed.
“And our students are, you know, teenagers growing up in 2018, so they complain about it,” Jones said. “Sometimes they’re also not allowed to be on their cell phones during the school day. That’s a struggle. So if they have their phones out during the day, the phones are taken from them.”
Laptops can be checked out in the library but they cannot leave the space and the use is monitored. Other computers without internet can be used for printing out papers. It is virtually impossible for a JBS student to access social media during the school day, which can give students a much needed break.
“It’s not going away. We definitely need to figure out how we’re going to balance this because it’s not going anywhere. And there are really, really good things that happened on social media. Ways for kids to connect, across countries and cities and things through social media,” Jones said. “But I do worry that we’re getting a little unbalanced if kids are also looking at screens all day long at school.”