High School Technology - Help or Hurt

By: Andrew Wills

I suppose things have changed quite a bit since I've been in high school -- new fashion trends, new slang -- but I'm quite sure that the most radical and continuously fluid change is the technology available to high school students, and the way they choose to utilize it. It's a popular debate -- do mp3 players, cell phones, and handheld video games help or hinder a child's learning?

Let's get one thing straight: from what I can remember, cell phones were not allowed to be turned on during class. I'm sure I circumvented this rule by simply turning my phone on silent mode. But it's not like I had someone to chat with every five minutes; I was probably just waiting for my mom to call and let me know whether or not she could pick me up for lunch. Besides, my cell phone wasn't even capable of sending or receiving text messages, which have apparently evolved into a totally necessary aspect of teenage life. This recent "txt" phenomenon is really the only huge difference that I can think of in the evolution of cell phone communication and its perceived effects on students and the way they learn.

We should remind ourselves, though, that with every media-induced setback, teachers and parents are able, or at least semi-prepared, to curb the potential hazard. It's not that difficult to enforce a strict "no cell phone during class" rule.

That's the way it is in university, and it's a rule that has been proven successful time and time again. I know this not only through personal experience, but also by way of a video I recently came across on YouTube where a professor was shown smashing a student's cell phone after being interrupted by its obnoxious ring tone. It seems obvious to me that it's not the technology that's helping or hindering the student, but rather the student's own attitude and work ethic. If someone is constantly talking on his or her cell phone, chances are that without that cell phone, he or she is still a person that loves to blather on.

While I didn't own an mp3 player in high school, I did represent with a regular old portable CD player. I was known for constantly having my headphones on when walking from class to class, or during quiet study times. If you look at my twelfth grade school portrait, you'll find my headphones there as well. I can say with complete confidence that music has always been helpful to me while working or studying, even at home with the aid of a stereo. I of course was respectful to my teachers, and always turned my music off when there was a lecture or lesson going on. I did, however, choose to keep my headphones on during all potentially social times, which in hindsight was a great decision. Did I mention I went to high school in the county?

While music, in my opinion, has the ability to aid in concentration, it's those video iPods that I worry about. How can a student pay attention to a lesson and watch Avril Lavigne's new music video at the same time? Sort of like driving while watching a movie on the dashboard. The former, while not directly risking a life in the same way as the latter, can still have pretty radical repercussions (like flunking) -- which could in turn affect a student's ability to get into college or university and receive scholarships, leaving him or her with no choice but to apply for a student loan or line of credit, which would probably only go toward funding a better iPod or the newest Gameboy. It's not the toys' fault. It's a personal choice that is backed by a person's character.

There are always going to be distractions that parents, teachers, and kids themselves will have to deal with. Sure, it could be handheld videogames right now, but maybe ten or fifteen years ago it was something else. I probably wanted to go outside and play with a Skip-It before I wanted to finish my math homework. That's just the way life is.

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