St. Benedict Elementary in Natick, Mass. is one Catholic school that has taken the approach of not using electronic technology in the classroom at all, except for very limited ways in the higher grades.
Jay Boren, headmaster of St. Benedict, told CNA that this is because the classical academy was founded by parents who had a desire for their school to be different.
“There are studies that show that (student) memory retention is better when they have written the information as opposed to having typed it. There are also benefits to learning cursive,” Boren said.
“In addition, an environment that is not inundated with fast-paced technology...allows students to cultivate the ability to sustain attention, develop concentration, and appreciate silence, which are the necessary dispositions to ponder truth, beauty, and goodness. We feel that those skills, are more important at this age level than mastering a screen that they will certainly be exposed to throughout their life at other times.”
On the other hand, Fr. Nicholas Rokitka, OFM Conv., teaches at Archbishop Curley High School in Buffalo, New York, which implemented a 1-to-1 iPad to student program four years ago.
“My major concern about technology in the classroom is the inability of the students to focus on the topic at hand and listen to the teacher,” Rokitka told CNA. “It certainly has changed the way teachers and students interact.”
Rokitka said that games and entertainment are always a potential distraction with the iPads in the classroom. While he has his room set up in a way that allows him to monitor his students’ iPad use closely, such monitoring “takes up a lot of my energy.”
There have been some positive impacts, Rokitka noted - the school has saved a lot of paper using digital homework and tests, and performance trends can be more quickly and easily recognized and addressed.
However, he added that without intentionality behind its use, technology negatively change the way students relate to one another and the world.
“On a very fundamental level, technology changes how people interact with each other. If technology is accepted wholesale without and intention, it will do more harm than good. When digital communication and social media replace face-to-face interaction, the students lose their ability to communicate,” he said. “This problem is way larger than just schools, but ultimately teachers and schools can have a dramatic input on how children learn how to use technology.”
Twenge said that she recommends schools ban the use of cellphones not only in the classroom, but during lunch as well, in order to give students a chance to interact with each other without a screen.
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In interviews with students for her research, Twenge discovered students who would feel depressed and left out while their fellow students ignored them at lunch, favoring their phones instead, she wrote in the New York Daily News.
“A no-phones-at-school rule would also help teens develop invaluable social skills. More and more managers tell me that young job applicants don't look them in the eye and seem to be uncomfortable talking to people face-to-face. If our students are going to succeed in the workplace, they need more practice interacting with people in person,” she wrote.
“They can get that right there at school - if they aren't constantly on their phones.”
Edghill said that his biggest guiding principle in the use of technology in school has been intentionality - which is exactly why the school banned cell phone use in school during the school day.
“It was an intentional decision based on the fact that there was little to no educational benefit and a whole slew of potential and real problems,” he said.
“The unplanned side effect is that the students actually talk to one another before school in the mornings now instead of just staring at their individual screens.”