Helping Students Live a Balanced Life with Technology

Whether or not we agree with students using computers for learning, many students are using technology in education in some form. Therefore, it is our task as educators and caring adults to understand technology and to support students’ balanced and responsible use of technology. This is no easy task, but it starts with awareness of what technology is, its effects on us, and how we can live in harmony with it.

The Basics of Technology

To start, students can learn a brief history of technology. Modern technology began when humans created tools to make basic tasks easier, more efficient, and more comfortable. Examples include tools for stonework and fire for cooking and warmth, to name a few. We can agree that technology has a rightful place in our world, and conversely, we can reflect on its harmful effects. These reflections can create opportunities for healthy debate and illuminating discussions.

Students can learn how digital devices work. Learning about the hardware components of a digital device is a good start. Algorithmic thinking can help students understand simple logic needed for coding. For older students, learning about electricity and how it powers digital devices, binary math, and simple programming could be appropriate. These topics help demystify technology and can be the seeds of empowerment and human responsibility for technology.   

Technology’s Effects on Us, and How to Stay Safe and Digitally Responsible

Once awareness and basic understanding have been built, students can reflect on the effects of technology in their lives.

First and foremost, students should learn the basics of online safety and protection. Learning how to stay safe online and not reveal too much information is critical. Contemporary issues of computer security and privacy issues can be addressed, including how to protect personal digital information.

Students should be shown the deceptive methods used by many organizations to track, retain, and commoditize their personal information and to manipulate their behavior and attention. By learning about these realities, students can make more informed choices about their engagement with technologies and platforms. Students should also be taught about the effect of their “digital footprint” on their future personal and professional lives. 

Next, students can learn how device usage can affect body and mind. Students can do their own experiments by observing how they feel, physically, after using technology for periods of time. There are many studies that show the negative effect of technology on vision and spinal health, and these and other ergonomic topics can be explored. The effect of technology on mental health and mood is of paramount importance; this discussion can illuminate the effects of too much technology and addiction to it.

The effect of technology use on social health is also an essential topic. Learning about how to use technology in socially appropriate ways, how to be good digital citizens, how to identify fake news and how to discern the reliability of digital information can be topics for middle school students and older. In high school and college, students should be required to take a course in the social and ethical implications of technology to raise their awareness of biases and other ethical issues in AI and technology. 

Living a Healthy, Harmonious and Balanced Life with Technology

Finally, because it is so integrated into our lives, we must help students learn how to live a balanced life with technology. We can help students explore technology’s rightful place in their lives, and find their own healthy balance. Ultimately, living in balance with technology means we must continually strengthen our “non-digital” lives. Our “non-digital” lives include activities such as in-person connections and relationships with self and others, engagement with laughter and art, experiences in nature, and physical activity. Balance means committing to activities and experiences that make us uniquely human: those things that feed our senses, our souls, and our need for creativity and connection with other people and the non-digital world around us. Balancing their “non-digital” experiences with their digital lives can help students build fortitude, inner strength, and overall health for a lifetime.

In summary, students must understand that technology is a tool to be used in service of humanity and that it will only do what humans tell it to do. Therefore, technology is our collective responsibility, and this can be taught to all students in developmentally appropriate ways. 

While almost all schools are using computers for some degree of learning, very few, if any, have a program with the components outlined above. I believe that it is irresponsible to place technology in students’ hands without helping them learn how to understand and be responsible with these powerful tools. Ultimately, the future of humanity could depend on our commitment to building students’ awareness of digital technology and how to interact responsibly with it.

Dianne McGaunn Oct 2020

About the Author

Dianne has spent several years in the technical industry and as a teacher-leader. Currently, she works in software organizations and teaches students digital literacy at a Boston-based Waldorf school. Among her many goals, Dianne aims to elevate the consciousness of ethics in tech and in AI. She believes that begins with educating students on how to live conscious, balanced lives with technology and to feel empowered through knowledge of technology and our shared responsibility for it.

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This blog series is produced by our Screens in Schools work group.

Screens in Schools is a work group of CCFC’s Children’s Screen Time Action Network, which brings together experts, parents, and caregivers to talk about critical issues around kids and technology. Learn more about joining the Network, or sign up for our email list to be notified about upcoming events at www.screentimenetwork.org

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