What Techlash Looks Like in Education

Techlash, a comfortably spoken portmanteau, can often be found in the news these days. Techlash or the predictable backlash against tech innovators (or innovations) was recently voted as the 2018 “digital word of the year” by the American Dialect Society. (For other “digital word of the year” finalists, see the complete list of nominations.)

The pernicious blows of techlash are not merely limited to consumer revolt in general or outward hostility toward large tech behemoths such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Apple in specific. Techlash is also alive and well in the education arena. In schools, it a growing challenge, one that could likely affect your sales in the education market, if you’re not careful. It’s about the screen—the display—and how much of it is a good thing. It’s an ongoing tussle. Disparagers warn against the negatives of excessive screen time in schools, while proponents of technology dismiss those same concerns summarily. Others are trying to carve out some middle ground in this heated fracas.

So what does techlash look like in K12 education, you might ask? Below are some living examples.

Exhibit A
In one K-8 public school, the staff released the following guidelines for home and school, in an effort to be responsive to unremitting parental concerns:
Screen Time Guidelines

Exhibit B
More and more, educators are relating experiences similar to these:

“Recently, we’ve had some backlash from parents who are anti screen time, believing screens and devices are inappropriate for school and educational purposes.“ (Administrator)

“We are a 1:1 building and when we began our initiative, I assumed there would need to be a requirement to use the Chromebooks in class. The opposite was true. I have had to mandate that time be spent off the devices. As the principal, I feel an obligation to insist that there be time away from technology spent reading out of books and writing on paper [and doing] hands-on projects.”

Exhibit C
Based on feedback, some of the most specific parent concerns over technology and unwarranted “screen time”:

Tech Concerns

Exhibit D
Interestingly, schools are often pleasantly surprised when they implement “screen time” control measures:

“I instituted a NO TECHNOLOGY Tuesday. It has been an absolute blessing.” (A teacher in Illinois)

Banning cell phone usage in a Wisconsin school district is going a long way to reduce student distraction. (See article.)

In a school in Kerry, Ireland, “parents reported an improvement in children’s mood and behavior” when students were banned from social media apps and smart phones during an eleven-week pilot project.

And so the debate rages on, with sound arguments coming from both sides. For example, while one research effort warns about significant speech delays associated with early childhood handheld screen time, another report suggests that the problem might be overstated. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, the tussle in schools is real and a tricky one to address. In part, it’s also about class warfare. Principals are often the first to hear complaints. (I’ve recently been invited by one school to address a group of concerned parents to provide some home-based strategies). Teachers, on the other hand, tend to support technology and screen time, already being comfortable with the motivational and engagement aspects of using technology in the classroom; and they don’t want to let the technology go. It will be interesting to see how we make our way forward.–Len Scrogan