Screens have been a regular part of the lives of people in many parts of the world since the introduction of television in the 1950s (or 1960s in NZ), and then with computers soon after. The release of the iPhone in 2007 saw a significant increase in the way we access information via a screen now small enough to fit in our pockets.
Schools have been among the early adopters of this technology, with the benefits such devices afforded in classrooms being recognised in terms of ease of access to information as well as to an ever increasing range of custom designed software in the form of games and simulations – not to mention the communications benefits via various conferencing and social media platforms. BYOD programmes and support for access from home through ‘flipped classroom’ initiatives have become widespread as a result.
While there is an increasing amount of evidence supporting the educational benefits of these devices, there are concerns being expressed about the impact of prolonged use and exposure to the delights these screens offer. The situation often becomes binary, with people placing themselves firmly in one camp or the other (pro-screen use vs no-screen use), and so it can be difficult to form an informed view that provides a ‘balance’ of any kind.
Earlier this month I met with Julie Cullen and several others who have collaborated on a project called ‘sensible screen use‘, aimed at providing an informed view on the impact of screen use in schools. Julie is a paediatric physiotherapist, and her collaborators are all practitioners or researchers in various parts of the health system.
I thoroughly enjoyed by engagement with the group. Like myself, they share an ‘optimism’ about the benefits of digital technologies in our society and the role they may play in building a better future. But this optimism is balanced with some serious concerns about the risks of un-critical adoption, resulting in negative impacts in areas such as physical and mental health, neurological development and social and emotional development.
The concerns are well supported by the research, and this group are going an excellent job in presenting recommendations for parents, teachers and students based on information and research they need to make wise decisions about their use of devices and the time they spend on screens in a day or week.
I encourage you to spend time browsing the material they have compiled and engage with it personally and with others in your context.