A True Challenge: Healthy and Safety Guidelines
Dear VDOE Workgroup Members:
You've worked hard on these Health and Safety Guidelines; thank you. I applaud the focus on physical health, especially. To be sure, there is no more important work than building better kids for a better future, a better world.
A bit about me: I'm the founder and Executive Director of Everyschool, a nonprofit whose mission is happier, healthier, smarter school communities through digital wellness and research-based classroom tech use. I spend all my working time reading the research on how technology impacts learning and well-being in schools and school communities, and then I create ways to share that research with educators.
To be blunt, and to sum up the what the scientific community knows about screens in schools (EdTech): schools have embraced tech with blind enthusiasm, and the results have been lackluster at best and quite poor at worst. Again, you are smart to try and steer this ship. We have a classic case of a flashy, newly-invented car without a seatbelt. And, when you look at data from the 2019 Nation's Report Card, which shows a strong link between higher screen time in language arts and lower reading proficiency, for example, your ears get pricked (https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/screen-time-up-as-reading-scores-drop-is-there-a-link/2019/11). Or, you might read research on the presence of cell phones in schools lowering kids' test scores, how reading print vs. electronic texts helps kids retain more, comprehend more, and test higher. You might read about how hand-writing classroom notes aides memory and retention, or how game-based learning apps decrease motivation and focus (please read our Research Summary here for more: https://everyschool.org/research). You might also then go on to read about the Silicone Valley big wigs whose kids are flourishing in tech-free schools (https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html). How can we sort out all this research? And to be clear, the only way to truly embrace technology in powerful ways that increase learning and support well-being (and not just in ways that prevent sleep disturbances or eye strain) is to follow the research on EdTech. Because it's out there; it might be thick, it might be hard to read, but what else can we follow?
These are the main tenets of EdTech research I hope you take into consideration more carefully when writing these Guidelines:
- Device use in school is not a must for 21st century success, especially in primary grades. In fact, large, longitudinal studies often show a link between higher screen time in school and lower student performance. What kids really need for 21st century success is empathy, creativity, and critical thinking skills. These can all be gained off-screen, and are often hindered by too much device time. Please consider not predicating your Guidelines on the concept that tech is always good or a necessity. Many of your points assume "tech is here, let's just do damage control with eyes and bodies." Again, go check the stats on Waldorf student outcomes (where are the Google execs send their kids, and where school is device-free until 8th grade). Please also consider making a bold move to incorporate broad screen time limit recommendations by grade level. Then, instead of addressing negative outcomes or adjusting for negative outcomes, you can prevent them.
- Young students are especially at risk for slower language and motor-skill development when screens are overused for learning. Hands-on play and IRL learning is most effective for this age group. Please consider including a clear range of acceptable screen time limit recommendations for elementary-aged students especially.
- Technology and tech concepts can be powerful and transformative in the classroom, but many teachers are unclear about what the research says about which kinds are better than others. Teaching coding and robotics and computational thinking show promise in EdTech research--as does teaching digital citizenship--while using e-readers instead of printed texts, typing classroom notes instead of handwriting them, or playing game-based learning apps are not at all as supported by sound research. Wouldn't it be nice to have a research-based classroom tech use model that helps teachers filter out the less useful tech and embrace the more transformative tech according to research? We have created this very thing, the first research-based teacher tech use model, called The EdTech Triangle (learn more here: https://everyschool.org/the-edtech-triangle). It has been accused of being both pro-tech and anti-tech. It's neither. It's merely a visually representation of EdTech's usefulness according to research. Please consider adopting a clear model like The EdTech Triangle that will provide teachers with a common language to create powerful lessons and use tech in the line with research.
Last, I want you to consider your own words: "...the challenge for educators and caretakers is to maintain a balance between the physical and virtual worlds as well as to ensure that digital devices are being used in appropriate, meaningful, and empowering ways." Yet, when I read these guidelines, you have not been specific enough about how to achieve this "balance." Simple additions to the Guide, as listed above, can help you empower educators with more concrete specifics so they can move forward with creating happier, healthier, smarter classrooms.
Thank you for your hard work, and good luck with revisions! Last, please reach out if you have any questions about this letter or Everyschool.org.