Combining Skills and Ethics Crucial to Digital Education

As more and more aspects of daily living move online, children will need to learn the tools required to successfully transition into modern adulthood. To help, schools are currently implementing programs to teach digital literacy.

Today’s students are exposed to technology far more than any preceding generation. The 2011 Common Sense Media Research Study, which focused on children’s media use, found that 40% of two- to four-year-olds use iPods, iPads, smartphones or similar devices. In addition, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016, about 84% of American households have at least one smartphone, while 80% contain at least a desktop or laptop computer.

How information and communication technologies can enhance the American educational system in the 21st century was discussed in the 2010 draft form of the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP). The plan’s areas of focus included using technology for learning, assessment and teaching in order to enhance learning experiences, while identifying and addressing technology trends to include access and increased mobility of digital content in educational settings. The finalized NETP, “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology” (most recently updated in 2017) has the goal of integrating and advancing transformational learning experiences through the use of technology.

J.P. Connolly

J.P. Connolly


“It is important to change the mode and scope of digital literacy curricula to also include these non-digital skills and practices"

The Internet is already widely used to enhance instruction and student engagements. For instance, Khan Academy Courses offer free online lessons and practices to millions of students across the United States in the areas of math, arts and humanities, computing, and science and engineering. Teachers use online collaboration tools (e.g. Google apps) to share documents with students in real time. Another innovative approach to teaching with technology is the use of a tool called Kidblog, which enables students to create their own blogs within the classroom. Teachers use the blogs to help students focus on a history lesson, science project or math problem.

Digital technology appears to have a strong hold on the future for many years to come, and the possibilities are undoubtedly exciting. Yet some schools and educators are concerned that allowing personal technology in schools can also be a hindrance to students’ educational careers and future. While we are experiencing a digital revolution, many observers fear that we are also creating a generation that lacks interpersonal skills and key social mores.

“It is important to change the mode and scope of digital literacy curricula to also include these non-digital skills and practices,” according to J.P. Connolly, Director of Technology and science teacher at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York. He expresses the broad concern that phones, screens, social media and productivity software can have a deleterious impact on students’ abilities to focus, innovate and problem solve.

There is also growing evidence that overuse of these devices can degrade social and emotional health and impede interpersonal relationships. “Specifically, our collective ability as adults to access and practice empathy, tolerate and relish periods of under-stimulation, and stay mindfully rooted in the present moments activities are all being eroded by our dependence on and possible addiction to online platforms, media and the devices that serve them to us,” Connolly explains. “The same challenges are present for today’s students, with the added challenges of social pressure and a shortage of savvy adult guidance and role modeling.

“Moreover, while studies linking anxiety and other difficult mental health outcomes are largely correlative at present, experiential and anecdotal reporting from adults and students both suggest over-engagement with apps and devices may degrade social/emotional health and interpersonal relationships.”

If students are going to thrive in today’s schools and become effective, productive and creative adults, Connolly says that “We need a clarion call for all of us (teachers, students and parents) to expand our conversation around personal and academic tech beyond the mechanistic intricacies of use to include development of interpersonal skills and individual practices that bolster and safeguard our relationships, health and communities.”

The ultimate goal is balance. This means having schools where teachers routinely access the Internet to obtain resources and online tutorials to support the information they provide to their students and assist students who need additional help and support. It also means maintaining ethics and social skills in the wake of today’s ever-present digital devices.

Says Connolly: “Teaching empathy, developing personal time management schemes that balance on/offline time, and working to establish and affirm community norms for maintaining consistent interpersonal interactions in virtual and physical settings are all part of a new mode of digital literacy in a broader context of human life.”

J.P. Connolly was a part of the “Human Skills for Digital Natives” Featured Session at SXSW EDU 2018. Watch below:

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