Can we reconcile the paperless classroom with screen addiction?

By Kerry Gallagher

I believe in two, seemingly opposite, basic concepts when it comes to technology use:

  1. Technology has transformed how we learn and communicate for the better.
  2. Technology is used as an escape that pulls people away from building strong in person social skills.

From a personal perspective, I believe in the first point because social media has allowed me to stay connected to family and friends who no longer live near me. We watch one another’s children grow and keep up using a mix of public posts and private messaging. When we are finally able meet up in person, it feels as if we were never apart.

From a professional standpoint, I believe in the first point because once my students and I decided to go truly paperless, we experienced a shift in how much we learned and how we shared that learning with one another and with those outside our classroom. Students now have easier access to better and more varied resources. They are able to collaborate in person, from home, or even asynchronously when their busy schedules don’t match up. And the best part is that they can share what they’ve learned by creating a greater variety of projects. Assessments are no longer limited to tests and posters. They are producing movie trailers and public service announcements, publishing blogs, editing and annotating photographs and artwork, and so much more.

The second point is concerning, though. While I know technology allows my family, friends, and students to do things we’ve never been able to do before, I also know that some of us struggle to find the right balance of technology use. Gaming, movies, music, and other types of media have benefits, but are also easily used to escape from tough real life problems. Does a school that encourages students to leverage technology throughout their day hurt our children more than helping them?

Just like humans have to eat, we also have a need to communicate and connect. Since technology makes that possible easier, faster, and with more detail, my belief is that the digital world is here to stay. Especially in places of learning like schools. In a recent interview with NPR, Chairman of the AAP Council on Communications and Media David Hill discussed the debate over whether screen time for children should be compared to diet or tobacco use.

“With diet, harm reduction measures seem to be turning the tide of the obesity epidemic. With tobacco, on the other hand, there really is no safe level of exposure at any age. My personal opinion is that the diet analogy will end up being more apt.”

I like Hill’s assessment — it jives well with my experiences as an educator, parent, and tech user — but we do need more research. In the mean time, we need to keep the discussion open.

Additional Resources:

If you’d like to read more about my students’ experiences in the paperless classroom:

If you’d like to read more about screen time other classroom tech concerns: