Reading on-screen prompted young adults to focus on details over context, finds a new series of experiments. Screen reading “led to greater focus on concrete details, but less ability to infer meaning or quickly get the gist of a problem,” reports Education Week. This made them worse at making judgments about things like which car was best to buy.

Researchers also compared young people playing games versus peers playing similar games on apps.

‘We noticed even playing in the same situation, they played differently. It was strange,’ said Fanagan, a professor of digital humanities, film and media at Dartmouth. ‘The iPad players played faster; they didn’t talk to each other as much, even when they were on the same team.’

Moreover, the app-game players focused on dealing with immediate, local outbreaks of disease. Those playing the board game were more likely to keep a “big picture view” of which people outside an immediate outbreak might be vulnerable, and they worked together more as a team. Overall, the board game players were better at stopping the outbreak and winning the game.

The researchers expressed surprise at their findings, particularly because schools have been telling parents that huge technology buys–such as giving every student a laptop or tablet, or using smartboards in classrooms–would help children develop advanced “critical thinking” skills. Reading printed material, however, better facilitated this kind of thinking, the researchers found.

“When you want students to think more analytically about something, especially when you are asking something new—’How would you compare what happened in World War II to the Gulf War,’ say—that may require a shift in thinking. You may want to get off the screen for that for a little while,” Fanagan told Education Week.

This is consistent with most research regarding high-tech devices in school, although that is not what most schools tell parents. Lisa Hudson reviewed recent studies about the effects of high tech doses for children, which include

increased reports of mental health issues (children twice as likely to report mental ill-health), decreased sensitivity to emotional cues, school difficulties (heavy media users report lower grades), eating disorders (strong correlation between  increased use of internet and discontentment with weight, and body shame), sleep difficulties (greater risk of sleep disturbances, stress), structural and functional changes in brain regions, and obesity (obesity associated with frequent television/video use). 

A short summary of the available research is that children, especially younger children, should spend the vast majority of their time interacting with the physical world around them and reading print books, not using various tech devices, either in or out of school. Not only are digital devices not necessary for an excellent education, they are more likely to get in the way of a good education than to help facilitate one. This is contrary to popular belief, but it’s true.

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