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More Focus on Psychological Impact of Digital Media?

Much focus in the debate over how to weave technology into education is on whether tech-based teaching methods can more effectively impart students with the skills we believe are essential than traditional methods.

But as our discussion becomes more sophisticated, expect to see more stories like we've seen this week, asking questions about the emotional and psychological impact of learning via digital media.

A story in Tuesday's Sydney Morning Herald in Australia suggests that overexposure to devices such as tablet computers and smartphones, particularly at a young age, can lead to obsession or addiction, according to several mental health professionals.

At the same time, they say, suggestions on how much (or little) screen time children should spend are overly stringent and unrealistic, compounding the problem for parents and teachers trying to discern how much tech time is healthy, and how much is obsessive.

Meanwhile, in an opinion piece on our sister website, Education Week Teacher, Paul Barnwell says his own enthusiasm for many uses of educational technology has waned as the novelty wore off and students became overstimulated and distracted.

Barnwell cautions that not all uses of educational technology should be abandoned, but he favors the use of technology for student creation and production rather than instructional delivery.

And even a recent study of children age 3-6 and their reading comprehension suggests that while they are equally able to gain comprehension from both e-books and their print equivalent, they are more easily distracted when reading the e-book.

As we've seen with fully online and blended learning, don't be surprised if the line also blurs between between student learning and student mental health. For example, the debate could turn to which mental-health impact is greater: the positives of improved education and thus the potential for a more successful life, or the negatives of an increasing pull toward a virtual world and away from person-to-person interaction.

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