School districts around the nation are quickly realizing that technology in the classroom offers new and exciting options to engage students and improve overall achievement. However, as school-issued devices become a regular part of the education system, additional consideration needs to be given to the widespread impact these devices can have on students and their families.
As teachers attend professional development workshops to learn best practices for incorporating technology in the classroom, districts should write guidelines for helping families navigate the unique challenges that arise when school-issued devices enter their household.
The Los Angeles Unified School District’s recent decision to provide each of its 600,000 plus students with an iPad makes sense. The technology drumbeat is growing louder and louder. Training children to use the tools of their future is a must, and the LAUSD is smart to take a proactive approach.
But as the technology revolution proceeds in the classroom, a critical piece of the equation must not be overlooked: the effect on the home. The iPads that L.A. school kids will receive are not going to sleep in a school locker at the end of each day. The iPad is coming home.
This new reality is a wakeup call for school districts and the families they serve. School districts must do more than just pass out iPads. They must also prepare families for the revolutionary nature of these boundary-blurring devices.
The school-issued laptop or tablet is not just another gadget or gizmo in the home. Consider:
- The fact that they are issued by the school district puts parents in a difficult spot because they have to manage a device that they do not own and whose purpose is being dictated by others.
- They increase “screen time” — the time kids are engaged with digital technologies.
- They blur the distinction between tool and toy — it will be harder to know if kids are studying, playing or socializing.
- They complicate the challenges of keeping kids safe online.
- They change the way parents establish rules and set limits. When a device is necessary for school, parents are less able to use technology as a carrot or a stick.
- They require parents to respect school rules regarding the acceptable use of technology, rules that might conflict with the delicate balance that families have already established for technology in the home.
- They ask parents to respect school values about the role that technology should play in their child’s life — values that may be odds with their own.
- Most critically, they may require parents to take an entirely new approach to their parenting as well as to the technology. Parents did not grow up with laptops and tablets, and certainly not ones that were school-issued. Thus, parents may lack the necessary perspective to know what to encourage and what to limit with the devices.
School districts need to resist the temptation to charge ahead with laptop and tablet programs without allocating sufficient time and resources to partner with parents during the bumpy multi-year transition.
I have worked with many parents whose home lives are disrupted by arguments, distraction and late-night disputes over the use of school-issued digital devices. For these parents, the emotional cost of an iPad far outweighs any benefits. These are the kinds of headaches that dull parents’ ability to get on board with 21st century learning.
It’s the People, Not the Technology
For school districts to be prepared for these challenges, they must provide adequate resources to help families understand the importance of new digital technologies to a child’s success in school and beyond. This is easy to note, but hard to carry out. When school districts spend their limited resources on technology like iPads, they are vulnerable to criticism and may act defensively rather than recognizing the need to support understandably anxious parents.