New Year’s Thoughts on Technology
By John J. Russell, Ed.D., Head of The Windward School
Research conducted in 2013 by the National Literacy Trust in Great Britain revealed that “39% of children and young people read daily using electronic devises including tablets and eReaders, but only 28% read printed materials daily. The number of children reading eBooks has doubled in the last two years (from 6% to 12%).” In addition to verifying the increased use of digital reading, the research of the National Literacy Trust also examined the effect of technology on students’ reading abilities and their enjoyment of reading. Their findings are troubling: “... those who read daily only on-screen are nearly twice less likely to be above average readers than those who read daily in print or in print and on-screen (15.5% vs. 26%). Those who read only on-screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading very much (12% vs. 51%).”
Dr. Maryanne Wolf, the Tufts University neuroscientist, and her colleagues raised similar concerns in their article, “The Importance of Deep Reading” (2009). While recognizing the remarkable capability of digital media to provide “... efficient, massive information processing; flexible multitasking; quick, interactive modes of communication...”, Dr. Wolf and her colleagues also questioned how well suited digital reading is for deep reading, which they define as “... the array of sophisticated processes that propel comprehension and that include inferential and deductive reasoning, analogical skills, critical analysis, reflection and insight.” These are the higher-order thinking skills that correlate closely with academic success. In a lecture at the 92Y in December 2015, Dr. Wolf reiterated these concerns.
Without question, digital media and educational technology hold great promise. At The Windward School, we are continuously exploring the potential use of emerging technologies that are supported by scientific research and that are consistent with the School’s mission and program. This approach may be too slow for some, but educators and parents need to question the hype of technophiles and rely more on solid research from educators and cognitive scientists. The expenditure of limited funds and the allocation of precious instructional time to support technology initiatives require a careful cost/benefit analysis. Most important, the education of our students, especially our youngest ones, demands a careful and reasoned approach to the widespread use of technology in our schools. #
Dr. John J. Russell, Ed.D. is the head of The Windward School.