Pontfications on the field of Educational Technology and Instructional Design.

Bare with me as I ponder the meaning of education in the 21st century from the perspecitive of an instructional designer.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Beware the Dangers of Digital Childhood!

I have continued reading, “Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds—For Better and Worse” and been struck by all the considerations that are neglected by well-meaning parents and teachers
. I am referring to the dangers we subject childr
en to in placing them in front of computers without thought or guidance.

I am personally guilty of placing my own kids in front of a computer with a learning game, feeling better because they are not watching TV. I have also offered mindless “learning” games as a reward for students for finishing their work. In both of these instances, I realize I was operating under a faulty assumption. This faulty assumption was that computer “educational” games are helpful, and better than just simply playing. Rather, educational “games” for children present many worrisome risks that parents and teachers should consider.

Health Risks
According to Healy, there are potential risks to children’s vision (50-90% of frequent computer users have visual deterioration), and posture (children often develop a “hunch”), health (magnetic fields and radiation may harm children). Furthermore, children miss much needed physical exercise, which aids children physically, mentally, and socially.
Unfortunately, educational computer games promote virtual, rather than actual activity.

Learning RisksFurthermore, due to their developmental stage, young children who spend too much time on a computer may fail to develop the appropriate brain associations and schemas created during physical interactions. The brain responds to its environment, has sensitive periods where it moves from concrete ideas towards the abstract, and develops best when multiple body systems learn to interact in increasingly complicated situations. None of these happen when a child is sitting at a “learning” game that simply requires them to click, get shallow praise, and avoid deep thinking. Most educational games, at best, turn our children into “organic data processors”, who can spit out rehearsed facts without any real-world understanding. The risks to children’s brain development are real, and we ignore them at the risk of inadvertently harming our children.

Social and Emotional Risks
It goes without saying that too much of anything can be harmful. This is especially true regarding computer use for children. Children who spend inordinate amounts of time on the computer, playing games or “learning”, will miss opportunities to make social connections with other children. It is in these childhood relationships that children learn how to play nice, fight nice, listen, and relate. Without these opportunities, children can become highly antisocial and not know how to interact with other people. Luanne Traud, in her article, “Virtual Childhood for Real Kids”, bemoans the fact that kids are losing out on a childhood of neighborhood play and real relationships, for simulated relationships with fake pets and virtual friends. Kids need to get out of the house to interact!

Ban Computer Games!?
You are probably assuming that I want to do away with computer software for children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, parents and teachers simply need to quit treating the computer like a tutor, and realize it is only a tool. Parents and teachers alike must design how
their children and students use the computer. That's right--sit down and plan. Analyze the software that is available and align it to family, or classroom goals. Does the software promote higher thinking skills? Does it promote genuine creativity. Design a plan to use it that includes frequency, and solid connections to age-appropriate learning (standards). And adults should sit with them as they learn and talk to them about what they are learning! Only then will "computer time" be a valuable tool in learning for families and schools.

To explore this issue in more depth, you may want to watch the video discussion below.

Note: This is blog reflection #4 for Edtech 795B.

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