Rethinking the Digital Revolution in Education

“But the king is naked!” The promised digital revolution has left our schools shortchanged. Let’s delve right into the heart of the matter: the detrimental impact of early computer use on crucial childhood development.

At the turn of the millennium, there was boundless optimism surrounding the internet’s exponential growth. We envisioned the internet superhighway, coupled with emerging cellular technology, transforming every facet of our lives for the better. To a large extent, it did. Industries like retail succumbed to the allure of online shopping, and entertainment became accessible on-demand, catering to our on-the-go lifestyles. By now, remote work has become the norm for many, thanks to the convenience of email and virtual conferencing.


Today’s Edtech Classroom

In this climate of rapid technological advancement, it was only natural to expect that the digital revolution would disrupt our education system, just as it had in the workplace. After all, the internet was a vast repository of knowledge, accessible at our fingertips. All we needed to do was connect our students to this vast trove of information, and the era of knowledge downloading would commence.


Fast forward two decades, and we find ourselves in the present day, with billions, if not trillions, of dollars poured into realizing the digital revolution in our schools. By the time students reach third or fourth grade, most have access to an internet-connected computer. Yet the grim reality persists—most teachers still opt for traditional tools such as books, pens and paper worksheets over computers. A cursory glance into a student’s school bag tells the tale, with its weight reflecting the dominance of physical materials. Even the most optimistic statistics concede that computers are used for a mere 15% of the school day.

The competition among schools fueled investments in tablets and computers, and the “one-to-one school” badge became a mark of prestige. Inertia has kept schools replacing old computers with new ones and purchasing licenses for interactive software, all in a bid to engage students, who are perceived as uninterested without gamified teaching.


Dangers to Students’ Minds on Chromebooks

It’s time for a sobering realization: The digital revolution in our schools has unequivocally failed. It’s an irrefutable fact—the Chromebook stands exposed, metaphorically naked.

Now, let’s discuss Chromebooks and their strategic role in education technology. While Chromebooks earned their moment of recognition during the Covid pandemic by facilitating remote learning, their introduction wasn’t solely about accessibility. Google recognized that the education sector presented the ideal battleground. By providing an affordable, user-friendly, cloud-centric experience with Chromebooks, Google aimed to create lifelong users among students. This early exposure was designed to make Google’s platform the preferred choice for educators and students, laying the groundwork for future dominance.

However, there’s something inherently unsettling about the image of young students sitting in a classroom, wearing headphones to avoid disturbing one another, while the teacher stands at the front, and students fixate on screens, their fingers tirelessly typing on keyboards. Attempting to transplant the office environment into a fourth grade classroom is fundamentally misguided, and it’s hardly surprising that many teachers harbor animosity toward this approach. They cite numerous reasons for their discontent, including the loss of fundamental handwriting skills, which scientific research has linked to lower reading comprehension, memory retention and even creativity. 

Other concerns include the loss of eye contact with the teacher, which is a vital tool for educators to gauge student engagement. Furthermore, the everpresent temptation of endless distractions that not even the most disciplined students can resist adds to the list of grievances. The adverse effects of the blue light emitted by screens and the logistical nightmare of charging devices compound these issues. Amanda Strom’s research in The Negative Effects of Technology for Students and Educators highlights these concerns, emphasizing the adverse impact of excessive screen time on students’ physical and mental health. Additionally, educators face substantial stress and anxiety in keeping up with ever-changing technology. As technology continues to evolve, it’s crucial to strike a balance between its benefits and potential drawbacks.

In such a scenario, I’ll opt for the familiarity of a color-divider binder, thank you very much.


A Tech Solution to Tech: Paper Tablets


So, what’s the solution? It’s not as simple as reverting to pen and paper alone. In a world driven by digital technology, opting for pen and paper is not an option. Digital literacy and accessibility, coupled with environmental considerations, compel us to embrace both worlds for a harmonious future.

Rather, we need to find a way to marry the best aspects of traditional learning with the advantages that technology can offer. We must reflect on what makes the traditional approach effective and discover how to integrate it seamlessly with the right technology to harness the benefits that the internet and technology bring.

Fortunately, a ray of hope exists in the form of paper tablets—electronic notebooks that replicate the tactile experience of reading from and writing on paper. This emerging product category has gained traction recently, with major consumer electronics companies like Amazon, Lenovo, Sony, Xiaomi and Huawei joining the fray. Regrettably, until now, these products have been primarily tailored for business professionals rather than students.

My company, Jotit, is an Israeli software company that has crafted a learning environment expressly designed for paper tablets. This platform seamlessly integrates with Google Classroom, consolidating all paper-based materials and digital content onto a single device while prioritizing handwriting as the primary input method. Teachers can upload worksheets to Google Classroom, which students can complete using handwriting, even making use of scratch paper from their notebooks. Once finished, students submit their assignments electronically for teachers to review on Google Classroom, simplifying the educator’s workload and benefiting the environment.

Our digital revolution in education has fallen short, with laptops and Chromebooks proving to be inadequate solutions. It’s time to explore alternatives like paper tablets that seamlessly blend the best of both worlds, preparing students for a future where technology harmoniously complements traditional learning methods.

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AI and Tech
Fall 2023
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