Balancing Screen Time

Can Tech Aid Social Interaction?

“Please keep in mind the world of technology doesn’t necessarily improve student achievement” — Email sent to Pear Deck from a teacher

I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s true that in our rush to keep up with changing times and our honest aspiration to prepare students for an unknown future, we, as a society, introduce tech into the classroom that doesn’t serve any particular educational goal. Or maybe it serves a goal but not any better, or even as well as, previous methods of serving that goal.

I truly believe that while technology has the potential to be a significant aid in the classroom, even redefine what’s possible in the classroom, it cannot, should not, replace the vital role that teachers play. We can make it easier for every student to answer teacher questions, but we can’t automate the connections teachers make between their students lives and the material they study.

When Tech Isolates

One drawback to increased technology integration in the classroom is that students potentially spend significantly less time interacting with each other. Many students spend hours alone on screens at home and, theoretically, school is a place where they learn to interact, disagree, lose, debate, convince, and celebrate with others. But what happens when more and more of the school day is spent on devices as well? Are we losing out on important interactions?

A recent study found that “after five days interacting face-to-face without the use of any screen-based media, preteens’ recognition of nonverbal emotion cues improved significantly more than that of the control group for both facial expressions and videotaped scenes” (Uhls, Michikyan, Morris, Garcia, Small, Zgourou, Greenfield). The findings imply that direct, face-to-face interaction improves preteens’ ability to communicate and empathize with others.

So then how do we balance the need to prepare students for a tech-heavy future and to nurture their ability to interact socially?

When Tech Aids Interaction

I think technology can aid teachers in teaching in the manner that best suits them and their material, but then get out of the way. There isn’t going to be a tool or a platform that serves every part of our classroom needs every day.

We built Pear Deck to aid teachers in getting rich, meaningful participation. Of course good discussion and debate can happen without the aid of technology at all, but, at the same time, it can be really hard to get every student participating in those discussions. It can be hard to get students learning from each other and considering other points of view, especially when the same three students raise their hands again and again.

Here’s a great way to use Pear Deck to support social learning:

  • Ask an open-ended question through Pear Deck or a question with several defensible answers
The open-ended question up on the board
  • Use Pear Deck to first give every student time to think for themselves about the question or idea.
A Student’s View — Dragging the icon along the slider to give their opinion on their own screen
  • Next, share student answers anonymously on the projector screen
  • Ask students: “What patterns do you see?”
  • Ask students: “What response are you curious about (confused about, want to ask about)?
  • Ask students: “Why would someone be uncomfortable with these developments? Why would someone be unsure about what they think?”
Showing all opinions anonymously

You could do much of this activity without technology, but there’s one key difference where the technology is making something possible that wasn’t possible before: when you display those anonymous answers on the board, you are seeing every student’s response, not the loudest student, every student. When you start discussing different ideas, you have a much richer playing field because ideas that would normally never be voiced are up on the screen fertilizing the debate.

The debate over how much screen time is appropriate for our children will continue and we will likely all find our opinions shifting around over the upcoming years. I think if we look to technology as an aid and not a cure all, we will find the balance we are looking for.


Building Classroom Interaction with Tech

Open this Pear Deck to see sample questions for promoting social learning.

Social Learning Deck