Matt Brunk
Matt Brunk has worked in past roles as director of IT for a multisite health care firm; president of Telecomworx,...
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Matt Brunk | September 02, 2016 |


Technology in Education: Good & Bad?

Technology in Education: Good & Bad? Computers in the classroom could contribute to negative impacts of technology overuse among children, one expert suggests.

Computers in the classroom could contribute to negative impacts of technology overuse among children, one expert suggests.

Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist and brain-imaging expert, earlier this week met with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss how technology for kids is addictive and disrupts the development of the child's brain. Since I've built numerous campus networks and worked in the education vertical, this meeting caught my attention.

Over the years, I have found so many areas within education where technology, especially one-to-one computing initiatives, aims to improve the learning environment and student performance. Did Dr. Amen mean to suggest these could have negative impacts?

Daniel Amen, M.D., heads Amen Clinics, located in Orange County, Calif., Atlanta, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., and the Seattle area. He has written numerous books, including "Healing ADD" and "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life."

Dr. Amen uses single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) brain scans on kids addicted to technology. According to the Mayo Clinic, a SPECT scan "lets your doctor analyze the function of some of your internal organs. A SPECT scan is a type of nuclear imaging test, which means it uses a radioactive substance and a special camera to create 3-D pictures."

Dr. Daniel Amen

By email, Dr. Amen answered a few questions for me. Here's an edited version of that correspondence.

Is there an amount of time that technology use is acceptable, and what is the tipping point from acceptable to unacceptable? Does it matter regarding the nature of use: game vs. math problems; reading a textbook vs. reading a novel?
Dr. Amen:
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics write that children aged 0 to two years should not have any exposure to technology, three to five years should be restricted to one hour per day, and six to 18 years to two hours per day.

Yes, what kids do on technology matters. Tetris is better than Grand Theft Auto.

What are the metrics and or indicators that show disruption to children's brain development?
Dr. Amen:
I have done brain SPECT scans on kids addicted to technology and they show disruption on many areas of the brain, especially lower frontal lobe function and altered temporal lobe function. Others have shown thinner frontal lobe cortices.

Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich says, "Our brains are being massively rewired." Others say technology addictions are the cigarettes of the 21st century.

With the nationwide one-to-one school initiative -- one computer for every student -- and research indicating benefits of technology in the classroom, could we make the argument that we're going too far with technology in the classroom?
Dr. Amen:
Technology is just pervasive, leading to an overdependence.

Additionally, Dr. Amen shared some of his talking points for the Vatican conference.

  1. Exposure in small children decreases development of executive function, attention and impulse control
  2. Decreases movement, which decreases development and increases obesity
  3. Tech is messing up our sleep. Distracts us, stimulates us, worries us. Blue light suppressing melatonin. Loss of sleep is associated with depression, suicide, ADHD, and actual loss of brain tissue
  4. Easily distracted, including while driving
  5. Poor focus... hyperlinks make it very hard to get all the way through material
  6. Increases mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.
  7. Outsourced our memory and knowledge to the Internet, which can often be unreliable
  8. Millenials are more forgetful than people 55 and older, according to a new study
  9. Can't find your way around without your GPS. Delays diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease
  10. Can be addicted, lose control, and have your life hijacked. "John CS" became violent when video games taken from him
  11. Violent media decreases empathy

Will Dr. Amen's findings give pause to educators about how much time kids engage with technology at schools? Perhaps they should take heed of the adage, "Garbage in, garbage out" -- meaning that bad or improper use of technology yields undesired results. But I don't think Dr. Amen is excluding content or use of any kind. Of course, despite the potentially negative consequences of overuse, trying to regulate technology use may certainly prove more challenging than rewarding -- at least from the perspective of parents.

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