The Tech Frontier: What Parents Can Look for at Their Child’s School

Any time a school proclaims that one of its new initiatives for the year includes some technological overhaul (“Smart boards in every classroom!”; “All students will have their own personal devices this year!”), my antennae go up and my skepticism sets in. 

Twenty years ago, it was innovative and useful that every elementary school included a class on computers in its curriculum. Students learned Microsoft PowerPoint and how to create a pie chart on Microsoft Excel. As technology evolved, the educational system responded to a real and urgent need to adapt and integrate technology into students’ learning. But the rapid change within the technological world has outpaced our schools, and not every approach reflects best practices for our children. Here are some questions to consider when evaluating the educational approach to technology at your child’s school. 


Flashy doesn’t always mean better.

There are many times that a school will invest in significant technological equipment, including but not limited to Apple TVs, smart boards, iPads or 3D printers. Each is a powerful tool, but the purchase of those items does not indicate if the education of our students will be improved. These items should be mediums used toward a broader educational goal. 

Let’s take a hypothetical example. A school invests in 30 VR (virtual reality) headsets and invites parents to experience what the Beit Hamikdash looked like in a 3D reality. Many parents walk away excited, but have they really learned what the school’s educational goal is? If the VR headsets are part of a larger effort to make learning more experiential and relevant, then wonderful; but if the school is unable to identify any other pathways to support that same outcome, then it is a misleading presentation.

Or take the hiring of an educational technologist. If the school has identified a larger educational goal, then an educational technologist can help facilitate school growth and student learning to achieve that goal. However, if no larger educational goal has been identified, then this position might entail an individual introducing random apps to teachers who may or may not use them, or giving one-off presentations to students about computer programs that they may or may not remember.

That’s why flashy doesn’t always mean better. When a school presents new equipment to parents, it’s important to ask the followup questions: What is the broader goal, and how will the use of this equipment lead to achieving that goal? If the school lacks answers, then the tool is not as impressive as it may have initially appeared.

One important note: Schools may receive funds (such as state grants) earmarked for certain technological devices. In those cases, even if the school cannot yet identify the broader implications of the technology, they should of course maximize the resources that students have access to and incorporate those tools when possible and appropriate. 


Access to technology should be limited.

I recently finished my doctorate at New York University. The program primarily consisted of synchronous classes online in the evenings. During the 90-minute sessions, I would listen… while sending a WhatsApp to my friend in the cohort, ordering my Walmart groceries, and scrolling Pinterest to decide where I should go on yeshiva break.

Research is mixed on the best practices in terms of notetaking. Some argue that handwritten notes help information to be more cemented in long-term memory. Accordingly, there are some schools, like the notorious one in Silicon Valley, in which students are allowed no devices in the classroom. I tend to agree with that line of thinking, but I’m not certain. There are other researchers who argue that typing allows students to engage with the material instead of being rushed to get the information down on paper. Truthfully, different people learn best in different ways, so it’s probably not a one-size-fits-all, as with most learning practices.

Here’s what we do know though: Internet or cellphone access during class or learning is distracting. I know very few adults who can focus when they have a device in front of them, and children have even less self-control. If a school allows students to have devices on them during class with no restrictions, speak up.

An extension of this principle is what homework looks like. Hopefully all parents have restrictions on technology at home, but these limitations are often undermined by the expectations of school. Here are a few case studies to demonstrate the appropriate and inappropriate usage of technology for homework assignments:

—A tenth grade student needs to write a five-page paper on Death of a Salesman. This is a summative assignment that cannot be completed within the designated class time. At home, the student will need to use their personal device to write their paper because handwriting this assignment would be onerous and inhibit the student’s ability to edit.

—A sixth grade student is asked to turn in a math paper on Google Classroom. A family should be given the option of turning in this paper the old-fashioned way. While having an electronic record and place for submissions helps the teacher (and sometimes the student) organizationally, the usage of technology may undermine the family’s ability to limit access to a device. It is easy for a middle school student to begin on Google Classroom and then get distracted.

—A third grade student is assigned to watch a video on YouTube. Schools should not do this. There is no control over YouTube commercials, suggested videos on the side or the comments. And homework for third graders on a device should be rarely or never mandated.

Parents should request that their child’s school is thinking deeply and critically about when technology is mandated at home. Not every educator or family will agree on when the usage of technology at home is appropriate, but if a school is not even having the conversation, it’s a red flag.


No school has the answer.

Most schools have engaged in some version of this professional development session over the past six months: “How should schools respond to ChatGPT and AI?” There’s only one wrong answer to this question, and it is if a school answers, “We know what to do.”

Overnight, students were able to input specific questions into ChatGPT and have an original essay produced almost immediately. One of my students demonstrated how ChatGPT gave him a well-formulated answer to a specific question on an esoteric topic concerning rabbinical thought during the Gaonic era. And since its release, the technology has improved, and it will continue to develop as more users engage with it. The number of students who turned in work that they had not written has increased exponentially. Educators correctly began to worry about the impact of this technology on student learning.

There are some rich conversations happening, and education is on the brink of a revolution. One of the first responses by many educators was to evaluate what work should be completed at home versus in the classroom. Since students have access to ChatGPT on their personal devices, many teachers began mandating written assignments be finished in class and in front of the instructor. Other educators embraced ChatGPT and proclaimed that there is no way to fight it. They thought of creative ways to incorporate the technology into their assessments. Students were asked to take a high-level question and weave information generated by ChatGPT into their responses.

Each of these approaches should be applauded, but they do not solve the problem. Schools cannot only mandate in-class assignments. How are long research papers supposed to be completed? Educators cannot accept ChatGPT with open arms. If they do, when are students supposed to learn fundamental writing skills and creative thought?

Some also criticize ChatGPT and correctly identify mistakes in the generated answers or the formulaic responses the program creates. While this criticism is valid, this is a technology that will continue to improve and is here to stay for the foreseeable future. And that is why every school should have the same answer right now: “We don’t know what to do, but we are thinking of new ways to respond.” If a school’s administration responds any other way, they are either dishonest or naïve. Parents should subsequently not expect schools to know the answers to this problem and should recognize this is a developing conversation.

One of my fundamental beliefs about education is that parents and schools are in partnership. Technology is a hot topic and one that we should all be thinking about in order to help our students and children learn best.

Return to the issue home page:
AI and Tech
Fall 2023
ad banner
ad banner