Teachers split on benefits of digital devices in the classroom


U.S. teachers still aren’t in agreement about the perks and pitfalls of having digital devices in the classroom, a recent Gallup study found.

A plurality of respondents said the technology has a positive effect on education, but many of the polled teachers are concerned about whether digital devices are harmful to students’ physical and mental health.

The nationally representative poll, taken in March, found that 42 percent of K-12 teachers believe that students’ use of digital devices — defined as smartphones, tablets and computers — has a “mostly helpful” effect on their education. Nearly 28 percent of teachers, however, said that devices were “mostly harmful” to education. The remaining 30 percent said it was neither helpful nor harmful.

When it comes to health, there is a clearer consensus. “An overwhelming majority of teachers in the U.S. (69%) believe students’ use of digital devices has mostly harmful effects on students’ mental health,” the study read, “a slightly smaller share of teachers (55%) express this concern with respect to students’ physical health.”

Despite the possible risks, digital devices are everywhere. Pew Research estimated in 2015 that nearly three-fourths of teens, or 72 percent, own smartphones. This is just below the 77 percent of American adults that own smartphones, and 95 percent of adults who own some type of cellphone.

The Gallup study noted that parents had a more positive view than teachers on students’ use of digital devices in education, with 87 percent saying the effect of these devices will be “mostly helpful.” It also found that teachers under the age of 40 were more likely to see digital devices as helpful than their older counterparts.

Authors of the study concluded that more research is needed to better understand technology’s role in the learning process: “The implications of these findings for schools and educational technology providers are potentially significant. Without strong support from teachers regarding the value of digital devices in the classroom, the promise of technology in education won’t be fully realized.”