The Risks of Technology as an Aid in K-12 Education
There’s no escaping the fact that we live in a technologically enhanced age. This has had a significant effect across various facets of our society. For our children, it has become a constant presence not just in their social lives and family time, but also within their classrooms.
It’s certainly true that there are incredible benefits to this. The introduction of technology at an early stage of their development means that students are better prepared for its use in their personal lives, university, and the workplace. They are digital natives, after all, and these tools will play a key role in how they live, and their ability to contribute to society in a relevant and even innovative way. However, it’s also important to understand that there are limits to the positive influence technology can offer. It’s not innately harmful, but there are potentially problematic areas.
We’re going to take a closer look at the risks of technology as an aid in K-12 education. Where can it drift from useful to problematic, and how can teachers and parents best respond?
One of the areas that concern parents and teachers a lot of the time when it comes to technology, is the potential for students to become too reliant upon it. While these tools will factor significantly in their lives, and some — like Google Workspace — straddle both educational and professional fields, they aren’t the be-all and end-all.
When addressing this, it’s important to take stock of how tech is used, rather than just declaring arbitrary limits. The internet of things (IoT), in particular, plays an increasing role in K-12 education. This ecosystem of connected objects helps teachers and students collaborate in the classroom and remotely, scan and share important documentation, and keep the curriculum organized and accessible for everyone involved. There are also innate risks in cybersecurity and costs, but being able to get a good idea of how far-reaching the benefits are helps us to be vigilant of potential overuse. We can see what elements of day-to-day learning and administration technology are used for, and make informed decisions about how to mitigate the risk of reliance.
This is where striving for balance can be a positive approach. Educators and parents should work together to assess which tools are being used in the classroom, which skills they’re providing students, and which abilities may be neglected as a result. If students primarily utilize search engines to research, are they also being provided with the skills to manually research in libraries or critically examine the credibility of their sources? If assignments are accessed and provided via the cloud, are teachers also introducing them to be proactive about finding alternatives should the system fail? Make it clear that these tools should support students in their endeavors rather than being the only options.
Health and Accessibility Problems
While we can consider technology a generally positive presence in schools, we also have to take into account its impact on students’ well being. There has long been some debate over whether incorporating technology into children’s lives can have adverse effects in this regard. While it is unlikely that the mere presence of technology in the classroom can be damaging, there are health risks that teachers, parents, and students should be aware of.
Among the most prevalent of these risks is directly related to screen use. In K-12 classes, there will be various types of screens that will be in use throughout the students’ day — laptops, television monitors, projectors, even smartphones for educational apps or during recess periods. Staring at screens for prolonged periods may be instrumental in causing or exacerbating vision issues in developing eyes. Teachers and parents should be watchful for the early signs of eye problems — squinting, poor attention spans, and persistent headaches are all common symptoms here. Where possible, they should limit the amount of time screens are in use during learning or encourage the installation of blue light filters.
Aside from causing health issues, technology may well be problematic for students that already live with accessibility challenges. As such, schools and teachers need to consider whether the tools they are using can be operated by all students. This should include compatibility with assistive technology, but also extend to whether websites are designed for accessibility. Can they be read by screen reading software? Is there a contrast ratio of 4.5:1, which is the minimum recommended under web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG)?
Privacy and Social Issues
There is a lot of uncertainty about whether technology impacts kids’ social development, but it does open them up to developing or being subjected to detrimental behaviors. Among the most common of these is cyberbullying. This isn’t just concerning from the perspective that bullying can be undertaken anonymously and subject students to disruptive and dangerous abuse. When there is technology in every facet of their lives, including in the classroom, the student can feel as though these attacks are relentless and inescapable. Not only do teachers and parents need to be vigilant for the signs of cyberbullying, there must also be a focus on ensuring the classroom can be a safe space away from it.
Aside from the prospect of bullying, there is the potential for students’ privacy to be impacted, too. Every time students interact with applications and websites there is the potential for their personal and behavioral data to be collected, shared, and sold. Sometimes this is undertaken legitimately by businesses, at others it may be stolen by cybercriminals. This opens them up not only to targeting by advertisers, but also potential fraudulent use of their identities. If technology is to be used in the classroom, there must also be an emphasis on teaching safe behavior, and how to protect themselves against these risks.
Technology is an essential tool for K-12 students, as it plays such a central role in their lives. However, it is important to be fully aware of the various risks involved. Teachers and parents must work together to help students understand these, and be provided with the tools and knowledge to better mitigate the potential negative consequences.