Screens and Cognition

If your school is dealing with rules concerning cell phones, and more specifically, smartphones, then I wish you luck. I won’t win any friends with the administration of my school in noting–as I have to the administration itself–that it has failed in its attempt to arrive at a sensible policy regarding these devices. In fairness to the principal and assistant principals of this institution, this is a very complicated and challenging area in which to formulate disciplinary code.

Educators can muster many reasons for prohibiting the use of smartphones in school. At the very least, they are a serious distraction and impede learning. It now appears that these devices may impair cognition and stunt brain development, perhaps permanently. For some time I’ve been waiting for the science on this, particularly science that teachers can use to design teaching activities that raise students’ consciousness about the risks theytake when they use smartphones excessively. My own sense is that until we educate students about the hazards of these devices, we don’t stand a chance of competing with them, let alone assisting students in developing their own understanding of the hazards of the excessive use of smartphones.

So, lo and behold, this morning when I woke up, I heard a short squib on the BBC about the problems associated with excessive social media use–which is the mainstay, I expect, of patterns of smartphone use among adolescents. I can’t find the exact link, but if you search “BBC Social Media Report” in your preferred internet browser, you’ll find that the BBC has done an comprehensive job covering this.

After getting myself to Lower Manhattan on the 5 train, I turned on my computer, opened Diane Ravitch’s Blog, scrolled down a few posts, and found that she posted yesterday this excellent post from Edward Berger (which actually links to a podcast) on the dangers of excessive screen use among children.

In my not especially humble, but nonetheless formed-from-direct-experience, opinion, smartphones are one of the major educational issues (and this, remember, in an environment where someone as manifestly unqualified as Betsy DeVos can be named Secretary of Education) facing teachers. Until we develop pedagogy around the cognitive hazards of excessive screen time, we will play a losing game with smartphones.

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