The government and schools have been pushing a computer agenda for many years. A prime example is the federal government's initiative to wire all schools for telecommunications by the year 2000. This project was undertaken without solid proof that computers actually help students academically. Since then schools have been spending limited educational dollars on technology that in many cases will be obsolete within a couple years. Now, according to the New York Times Article by Sam Dillon, school buses in Vail, AZ are being equipped with wireless internet. While the article points out several positive aspects of this change including virtually no behavior problems and an increase in homework getting done, do kids really need more wired time?
A recent study by Roberts found that the average American 8 to 18 year old spends more than 6 hours a day exposed to some type of digital media. Multiple studies have shown that media exposure has been negatively related to personal adjustment and school performance. A recent Dutch study by Van den Eijnden confirmed earlier research that adolescent internet use is associated with a decrease in well-being. It has been suggested that frequent online communication may replace valuable everyday social contact with family and friends, with negative consequences for users' mental well-being (the social displacement hypothesis).
Even as school district officials are delighted that more homework is getting done, research on the internet and computers' ability to increase grades is mixed. Roberts' research has shown that while most of the students in their study got good grades, 47 percent of the heaviest users frequently earned Cs or lower. Another 2005 study by Hunley did not reveal a significant relationship between time spent on the computer at home and a better grade point average.
Of equal concern is the probable lack of supervision in this mobile wireless café. In a 1999 survey of more than 1,000 parents in households with at least one working computer and at least one child between ages 8 to 17, more than 75 percent were concerned that their children might give out personal information or view sexually explicit images on the Internet (Turow, J.). A 2009 survey by the FCC found that 24 percent strongly agree that the Internet is too dangerous for children. A 1999 student study by Stahl and Fritz reported that one-fourth of the respondents reported unsafe experiences. These experiences included both website content and unwanted contact. Another study by Sefton-Green and Buckingham concluded that children and teens need close adult mentoring and well-defined educational projects to make their technology use constructive. Subjects in Dillion's own article admitted to using the internet for non school related activities including e-mail and computer games.
Of lesser concern is the ongoing digital divide. Even as the gap in technology access is closing for the lower incomes, not everyone has access to laptop computers or other wireless devices. If this wireless time was structured and used for constructive academic purposes, teens and children without laptops or other electronic devices could be at a disadvantage to wired peers. Without these devices, these children could experience feelings of being left out and act out further.
I feel the Vail, AZ school should be applauded for thinking outside the box for utilizing long bus rides. However, riding on the school bus is a time to socialize and interact with your peers. Reducing the opportunities for kids to interact with each other face to face will continue to erode interpersonal communication that is needed throughout life. While providing a study hall like atmosphere may reduce current behavioral problems, concerns should be raised over the long term implications of school sanctioned wired time. Thoughtful considerations should also be given to providing unsupervised internet access to children and teenagers.
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Hunley, S A. (2005). Adolescent computer use and academic achievement. Adolescence, 40(158), 307.
Roberts, D F. (2008). Trends in media use. The Future of Children, 18(1), 11.
Stahl, C. (2002). Internet safety: Adolescents. Journal of adolescent health, 31(1), 7.
Sefton-Green, J., and Buckingham, D. (1996). Digital visions: Children's creative uses of multimedia technologies. Convergence, 2(2), 47-79.
Van den Eijnden, R. (2008). Online communication, compulsive internet use, and psychosocial well-being among adolescents: A longitudinal study. Developmental psychology, 44(3), 655.