School + Pandemic = Technology
BY EMILY XU '23
Bring your charged Chromebook to class every day! To an AB student today, these words are a nagging but helpful reminder to bring an essential resource to school. Five years ago, this wouldn’t have been the case: school was largely pencil and paper, with the occasional integration of an iPad or Chromebook cart. Now, however, students use Chromebooks daily in almost every classroom. AB’s dependence on Chromebooks for schooling reflects a larger, post-pandemic shift—a newfound reliance on technology for education. Convenient as these tools may seem, educational tech has muddled the lines between work and play, ultimately creating a culture of never-ending schoolwork.
One look at our school reveals a growing dependence on digital tools since the start of the pandemic. Last school year began with a 1:1 Chromebook system that provided each student with a Chromebook, intending to improve digital literacy and discourage paper use. Evidently, its purposes adapted to the more pressing pandemic circumstances; Chromebooks reduced the risk of virus transmission via paper. Online tools also proved to be convenient (and COVID-friendly)—resources like Google Classroom mimicked a physical classroom’s functions with areas to submit homework or virtually collaborate on projects. In the event of a shutdown, it’s easy to move to a virtual classroom if the physical classroom is already digitally-centered, so it’s clear that the pandemic has spurred the usage of many such platforms. However, though these platforms seem useful, no technology comes without detriments.
In class, many students toggle between tabs, switching from entertainment to their intended schoolwork. Shelly J. Schmidt, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reviewed several studies on distracted learning and found that it produced a plethora of detrimental effects, such as mental fatigue. She also discovered that despite knowing the harmful effects of distraction, many students disregard such warnings. Though Schmidt primarily focused on mobile devices, distracted learning isn’t limited to cell phones—as strong as school firewalls appear, students can bypass these blocks, even on school-issued devices. Teachers can’t exercise authority over twenty different screens, and it’s easy for students to conceal this type of web browsing. Its effects, though, are apparent. While the classroom is meant to be a learning environment, digital tools can distract students from the work at hand. With the divide between class time and leisure time disappearing, school takes on the confusing mix of work and play, creating an unproductive learning environment for both students and teachers.
Even outside of the physical classroom, online classrooms remain active after the final bell. In a pre-pandemic world, teachers would wait until the next class to return assignments, and students would prepare themselves accordingly. In the same vein, students could anticipate completing their work by class on any day, but now, different teachers employ different deadlines: 10:00 p.m., 11:59 p.m., and 8:00 a.m., to mention a few. Regardless, these deadlines disrupt typical student routines, forcing students to complete their work on the schedule that their teachers demand. This could also worsen sleep patterns; rather than waking up early to finish homework, students may need to sleep later to adapt to their deadlines. In general, notifications from teachers posting or returning assignments throughout the week—especially during weekends—may constantly remind students of school during times that should be devoted to rest. This creates a perception of always being at school; with no end to the assignments being posted, there is no concrete end to the school day.
It’s clear that education has evolved in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have yet to fully adapt to these new tools. Online schooling resources aren’t temporary—they’re here to stay, and, as such, it’s important to take a conscious approach to properly use these tools. Teachers and students must be cognizant of technology’s pitfalls and benefits and adapt to use it for its intended learning purposes, setting healthy boundaries in and out of the classroom. In a larger sense, it’s important to be mindful of our technology dependence as we adapt new tools.