A Deeper Look at NYTimes Article, “Can Students Have Too Much Tech?”

In the NYTimes article, “Can Students Have Too Much Tech?” author Susan Pinker addresses the use of technology, specifically computers and other “networked devices” (e.g. smart phones, tablets, etc.) in education. Using studies as a reference, she argues that integrating such technologies can not only hinder student performance in areas such as reading and math, but that the effects are greater for students from lower-income families, as well as for certain subgroups such as boys and African Americans. While this is interesting, she mostly just addresses technology as a blanket approach in education (e.g. give the kid a laptop and see if the student’s performance changes), which she contrasts to very specialized uses of specific technologies (e.g. adaptive technologies for students with physical disabilities or learning disorders). She altogether omits addressing certain implications of the studies she references – specifically, what could be contributing to the difference in impact of networked devices on students from lower-income families, versus higher-income families?

While this question is incredibly broad and open-ended, it does raise some follow up questions which, given the specialized contexts in which Pinker says technology integration IS effective, ought to be addressed. First off, how are students’ habits of technology use in education settings influenced by their home environment? Are students whose parents are at home more often more likely to supervise their activities? If so, how are parents’ availabilities and attentiveness related to their socio-economic status (SES)? What about job or marital status? Furthermore, wouldn’t students be more likely to make effective, responsible use of networked devices if their parents model this for them? If so, what does this say about parents with jobs that regularly entail using these devices? Are they more likely to successfully act as positive role models?

Certainly, such jobs are more likely to be held by people in the middle- or upper-class, than by those in the lower-class, if only due to the effects of the higher pay found in such jobs. Therefore, students who leave school with familiarity and proficiency with such technologies are more likely (or at least better able) to get these higher paying jobs, right? In consideration of this, isn’t teaching students to responsibly and effectively use modern technologies especially paramount for alleviating income disparities (especially insofar as this can arise from social inequalities)? Doing so could potentially be very instrumental in empowering disenfranchised sub-sects of the population, and could effectively increase their upward mobility. This, in turn, could allow them to afford better higher quality education for their own children.