How do we protect our children from the risks that unregulated education technology may pose to our children’s privacy, health, and well-being during critical stages of their physical, neurological and social development?  When are EdTech tools effective and how can we stem their overuse in order to optimize student learning and engagement? What are the best strategies for ensuring that all students have equitable access and sufficient media literacy skills?

Children and Screens’ #AskTheExperts webinar “School for Thought: EdTech and Virtual Learning – What Now?” was held on September 21, 2022, at 12pm. The webinar examined the growing role and impacts of educational technology and virtual learning in schools, homes and families, and built on dialogue from Children and Screens’ groundbreaking May 2022 research retreat to address parents’ most critical questions about educational technology.


  • Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH

    Editor-in-Chief; Director; George Adkins Professor of Pediatrics; Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Adjunct Professor of Health Services JAMA Pediatrics; Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, Seattle Children’s Research Institute; University of Washington School of Medicine
    Headshot of Dimitri Christakis
  • Velislava Hillman, PhD

    Visiting Fellow London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Jared Cooney Horvath, PhD, MEd

    Director LME Global
  • Tessa Jolls, BA

    President; Contributing Scientist Center for Media Literacy; UCLouvain
  • Amina Fazlullah, JD

    Senior Director of Equity Policy Common Sense Media

Pandemic school shutdowns drew new attention to the growing influence of technology in K-12 education. In this “Ask the Experts” webinar, a panel of researchers and educators address critical questions arising from the increasing dependence on tech for teaching and learning, and how parents and educators can move forward to prioritize children’s health and development.

00:00 Introduction

Introduction from Kris Perry, MSW, Executive Director of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.

02:10 Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, editor-in-chief of JAMA Pediatrics and professor at University at Washington School of Medicine, moderates, guiding a conversation about how to optimize screen use, when appropriate, to promote healthy development and learning.

03:40 Jared Cooney Horvath, PhD

Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath is a neuroscientist, educator and author and currently serving as Director at LME Global. Breaking down the importance of “primary function,” he outlines data on teen computer usage for both work and leisure. He shares research on computers used for learning, noting the conflict between these tools’ potentials and the reality of student multitasking and distraction.

09:31 Tessa Jolls, BA

Tessa Jolls, president and CEO of the Center for Media Literacy, founder of the Consortium for Media Literacy, and contributing scientist at UCLouvain, elaborates on why technology on its own is not the solution. Acknowledging a needed shift in education towards learning to learn, Jolls argues that media literacy process skills are key to effective use of technology. Jolls describes what this transition might look like and how it can support learning and improve dialogues not only in the classroom, but “anywhere, anytime.”

14:25 Velislava Hillman, PhD

Dr. Velislava Hillman is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science and founder of EDDS. She presents three big concerns of advancing digitization in education: planetary cost, human connection cost, and individual development cost. She outlines current gaps in governance of EdTech providers, the risks these pose to students, and recommendations for parents, teachers, and industry alike to improve protections.

20:37 Amina Fazlullah, JD

Amina Fazlullah, Senior Director of Equity Policy at Common Sense Media, unpacks the “digital divide,” addressing who has access to what devices, and what that means for education. She details recent advancements, focusing on expanding access to devices and digital wellbeing advocacy. She differentiates between school and home access, noting impacts on child safety, ability to complete work, and parental engagement.

29:37 Q&A – Tips for Home Use

Christakis asks the panel to share strategies parents can employ to ensure children are using technology effectively for learning at home, when necessary. The panel discusses maintaining focus, choice in use of technology products, and media literacy for both children and parents.

39:46 Q&A – Student Privacy

Hillman describes what we know (and don’t) about what student data EdTech platforms are collecting. Horvath cautions parents against heavy reliance on tools to “lock” technology, and Fazlullah challenges industry and governments to do better. Jolls summarizes the need for building a complete ecosystem before introducing technology in schools.

51:33 Q&A – Diverse Learning Needs

The panel discusses technology use for students with differing learning styles and needs, the social aspects of learning, the distinction between pedagogy and curriculum, and the role of teacher and technology in these distinctions.

01:02:13 Q&A – Tips for Future Virtual Learning

Not all tech is created equal for learning. The panel makes recommendations for tech that allows for human connection, reiterating the key skills needed for effective use. Among the tips shared are four concrete recommendations to improve Zoom learning at home.

01:10:39 Q&A – Advocating for Student Needs

Finally, the panel makes recommendations for parents and teachers alike looking to advocate for their students’ needs, whether they are struggling with increased technology use or hindered by limited access. Strategies shared include engagement, dialogue, voting, grassroots organizing, and an intentional, slowed-down approach to digitization.

[Kris Perry]: Welcome to today’s Ask the Experts Webinar: “School for Thought, EdTech and Virtual Learning- What Now?” I am Kris Perry, the Executive Director of Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Today’s webinar will address a topic that’s been weighing on the hearts and minds of parents all around the country and the globe from the moment the first school shut its doors during the pandemic. However, education, technology and online learning are not new and in fact have been increasingly used in K-12 schools over the past decade. Now the EdTech market has skyrocketed on the back of school shutdowns, and even though students are largely back in the classroom, the expansion of these tools and their uses is expected to continue. But what do we really know about these platforms, apps and software that children are using every day in their classrooms and even at home? What do we know about when, how and for whom they best support learning and what skills students and teachers alike need to use these tools most effectively? What do we know about the tech developers themselves and the ways these platforms use student data at the risk of student privacy? How do schools balance the opportunities for increasing access and enhancing learning with the protections of students need to promote positive and healthy holistic development? These are some of the many questions that we’ve been grappling with, and today we have brought together a panel of esteemed experts to discuss these and more. Now, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to today’s moderator, Dr. Dimitri Christakis. Dr. Christakis is director of Seattle Children’s Research Institute Center for Child Health Behavior and Development, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Christakis is a leading expert on how media affects child health and development and a member of Children and Screens’ National Scientific Advisory Board. We are thrilled to have Dimitri here to lead this conversation today. Welcome, Dimitri.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks, Kris. Thanks for that introduction. You’re not actually here to hear from me. You’re here to hear from the expert panelists that we have. And so I won’t take up very much of their time to make sure I have enough time for everyone’s questions. I will say that this is probably the topic I’m asked about most when I talk to parents and teachers around the world. Even pre-pandemic, as Kris said, there’s been an enormous amount of concerns about the amount of time children spend on screens, even in the context of doing what we expect of them. We tell parents to be mindful of their screen use. As you know, the mission of children on screens is helping children lead healthy lives in a digital world. So we are all about screens being part of that world. But how much apart and how to integrate them into children’s lives is central to our mission. And for children whose teachers and schools expect that they’re on technology both in the classroom and out of it, it can be very challenging for parents to try to navigate. So I won’t take up any more time. I have the pleasure of moderating this panel. Our very first panelist is Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath. Jared is a neuroscientist, educator and author. He currently serves as director of LME Global, a team dedicated to bringing the latest brain and behavioral research to teachers, students and parents alike. Take it away, Jared.

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: Thank you so much. And hello, everyone. It is lovely to see all you guys. So real quick, just as a bit of background, my focus is on learning. So pretty much whenever I talk about tech, it’s going to somehow go back to what does this mean for student learning? And I just want to give you a brief background on kind of where we stand with that, and then we can go deeper into this during the Q&A. So interesting fact about computers and learning. The OECD international organization recently came out and said students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes. J-PAL, an international research organization, took a look at 126 research studies on computers and ed, and concluded that computers do not improve K-12 grades in test scores, and online courses lower academic achievement compared to in-person courses. Larry Cuban, Emeritus Professor over here at Stanford, who is known as the tech guy, flat out said computers were supposed to improve academic achievement and alter how teachers are taught. Neither of these things have occurred. What the heck is going on, in fact, on your screen right now? Don’t worry about the details. Here are 100 of some of the most cited research papers in the field of education and technology. When tech companies and people say we need more tech in ed, these are the papers they’re citing. Here’s the joke. If you actually go into those papers, 50 of them demonstrate computers do worse than live and in-person learning. Of the remaining 50, 22 only suggest that computers are equivalent to live and in person. Of the remaining 13, don’t compare computers to anything, so they’re not real research. Meaning of these hundred highly cited studies, 15, only 15, suggest that computers can actually boost learning. That is a horrible ratio. Imagine you get accused of a crime and you have to sit a trial in front of a jury of 12 of your peers and they come back, six of them saying you’re innocent, two or four saying meh we don’t know, and two saying you’re guilty. There isn’t a judge in the world that’s going to convict you on those ratios. Yet those are the ratios everyone are using to say we need more computers and tech in education. What the heck is going on? The problem with computers in education is this: it concerns what’s called a primary function. So every tool in this world has what’s called its primary function, that says when you get that tool, what is the first story that pops into your mind in how to use it? So for instance, a hammer by hand you a hammer, almost immediately y’all are going to start looking for something to hit. Now, that’s not because a hammer can’t be used for other things. You can use it as a bottle opener or a screwdriver. You can throw it at something. Tons of tools or tons of uses with this tool. But as soon as you get it, 90% of the time, 90% of us use this tool to hit things. So once we get it, we activate that story, off we go. So what is the primary function of computers? When kids sit down in front of a computer, what’s that first story that clicks online? Well, let’s break it down. So these values I’m about to give you, these are pre-COVID. So since COVID, these numbers have all gone up, but the ratios have stayed essentially the same. So we can assume this is going to keep going just a little worse in terms of values as we go. But here’s how teenagers use computers most often per week. Break it down. 10 hours, 45 minutes playing video games, 10 hours watching TV, videos, YouTube, Netflix, all those things. 8 hours 15 scrolling social media, 7 and a half listening to music, 3 and a half doing homework. Congratulations, 2 doing schoolwork, so that’s using a computer at school, awesome. 1 fifteen reading for pleasure, 1 hour creating actual content, and a whopping 15 minutes writing for pleasure. So if you break that down, extend that, assume that school is in session only 180 days a year. That means kids on average, teenagers are spending a computer, spending their time on a computer learning, about 200 hours a year. Now that is awesome until you compare that to the amount of time they spend using the same exact tool to passively consume rapidly switching media content: 2000 hours. How are 90% of people spending 90% of their time using a tool? I think we found our primary function. This is why when you sit a kid down in front of a computer and say time to learn, most of them will make it on average 6 minutes while doing homework before they begin multitasking, opening other tabs, looking at other things. And when they sit down for live sessions like this on Zoom, 15 minutes is about your max before they start flipping, and that was at the beginning of the pandemic. I’m from Melbourne, I’ve been living where we had the world’s longest lockdown. By the end of our second lockdown, 2 minutes, that means most kids would’ve logged on to class in a meeting, they’d say hi, and then go right over here and start doing other things. And the joke is once you start multitasking, learning is done, you might as well not be doing it. So the important thing to remember is this: nobody has ever argued that computers can’t be used for learning. That’s never been the argument. The argument is that computers so often aren’t used for learning, that now, when we try and shoehorn that function in and tell students, here’s how we want you to use this tool, the vast majority of them simply can’t do it, we’ve got a massive obstacle we’ve got to overcome, and that’s the issue we’re seeing with computers and learning. So a lot more we can talk about with, but we got plenty of time, other people to chat with. So I’ll hand it back over to Dimitri and I’ll, we’ll chat during the Q&A.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: That was great. Really set the stage very well in a very provocative way. But I think that’s terrific because that, I think, is precisely the point. I think many people have just believe that computers are inherently a good thing for education and not subjected them to the scrutiny that that they deserve. Our next speaker is Tessa Jolls. Tessa is President and CEO of the Center for Media Literacy, where she has served since 1999. She also founded the Consortium for Media Literacy, a nonprofit research organization. She recently was honored with the Fulbright NATO Security Studies Award, and is a contributing scientist at UCLouvain in Belgium. Tessa, take it away.

[Tessa Jolls]: Thanks, Dimitri. Well, Jared’s presentation hit the nail on the head in terms of technology alone not being the solution. What we’re really seeing, I believe, is an enormous shift from an education system that has long been grounded in transmitting content, to an education system that really has to help everyone learn how to learn on an ongoing basis and to use the appropriate tools for that learning process, and that’s a huge shift, and we’re right in the midst of it. And definitely it is an absolutely imperative that we learn how to use these technology tools as part of that bigger quest to improve knowledge and improve the dialogues in today’s world. So definitely media literacy has an important part to play in this because media literacy doesn’t focus on the technology itself. It focuses on the process skills that are actually needed in order to effectively use technology, effectively use information, and be able to discern, be able to responsibly participate and to really help citizens be the ones who access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate with technology and with media messages. And so, what we’re looking at is a fundamental shift in the need for teaching, very explicitly, process skills. In other words, you know, how do I, how do I question all of this content? What do I need to do? What do I need to learn to assess my learning and to see how I’m coming along? And we’ve had a very teacher centric approach to education. I don’t argue with that. And I certainly wouldn’t want to replace teachers for anything. But at the same time, we have to help people acquire the skills that teachers often provide themselves. So in other words, if I haven’t learned as a young person how to look at my work and be able to ask questions about my own work in relationship to the work of others, then how am I going to learn how to evaluate it? You know, now the teacher gives, great, okay, great, we have someone’s judgment, but in our lifetime, we’re going to be subjected to all kinds of judgments over, over the long haul. And so, again, this is a process skill that we need to teach and that has to be learned. And it involves a shift in the role of the teacher as well. So we’re not talking about just surface level change here. We’re talking about a very deep change. And it takes time. And certainly COVID has exposed the weaknesses and looking at education in a way that, you know, will be continuing forever: it won’t. And we definitely need to teach these process skills so that we have anywhere, anytime learning, with critical thinking, and with the ability to discern and participate. So that, I believe, is really where media literacy can make a contribution. And I would certainly call for much more R&D around this, so that we learn how to do the job and do it well. Thanks.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks, Tessa. Yes, I’m sure we’ll have lots of questions about the importance of media literacy, teaching both in schools and for parents to learn for themselves and to teach their children. Our next presenter is Dr. Velislava Hillman. She’s a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science and founder of EDDS, “EDDS”, a research based project that aims to independently evaluate education technologies across various aspects, from cybersecurity to data privacy, ethics and pedagogy. More broadly, Veli’s work lies at the intersection of EdTech and children’s rights and freedoms in a highly digitized learning environment. Take it away, Velislava.

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: Thanks so much. Yeah, great introduction and great speakers so far. I hope I’m not going to bring in some very negative, then pessimistic, overview of my research. Additionally, I just wanted to add that I’m also a parent of three children 13, 11 and 9, and so I’m experiencing the digitalization of their lives and education as we speak firsthand. So my discussion reflects both the research that I’ve been working on and personal experiences. Just before I dove into the research, because I’m talking about more about the, what mechanisms are in place before we actually let EdTech products in education, what sort of governance and oversight is put in place. But there are three kind of big goals, big questions and concerns, that drive my research. The first one is what is the planetary cost of connection? We’re pushing for more computation power and digitization of everything. We replete natural resources to produce more digital products while wars, energy shortages and poverty is all around us. The second question is what is the human cost of connection? So what happens? What do we do and undo as we plug in children to more devices at home and at school? And three, what kinds of people do we want to be and what kinds of people do we want our children to become in a world of advancing technologies and A.I.? So besides this very apocalyptic picture, I’m driving towards the actual research, talking about watching the digital watch dogs that are settling in schools. So the the main research, so basically I look at the educational ecosystem as a really indulgence of EdTech products and typically a K-12 schoolchildren, at least in the environments that I’ve research, that’s in the U.S., in the UK and in the EU region, children would interact or be a part of complex data generating systems, platforms would hold granular information about a child’s learning from grades, to behavior, and more, applications are now used to profile the students’ attitudes, suggest even career pathways. Schools are saturated with EdTech business offerings to help expand, supercharge, enable success, empower students. But these businesses are also tapping into very sensitive, granular information about children every single day. And so important questions need to be asked. And I ask them both as a researcher and as a parent. First, who decides what EdTech products will be adopted? According to what benchmarks and standards? Who evaluates what EdTech will do and what happens if they actually fail to deliver to their promises? And who is held responsible? There is no coherent benchmarking or standards across products. From the research that I’ve done for the past several years, identifying a standard model that unifies everybody’s needs in a in a complex ecosystem is typically a low priority for policymakers. It becomes more of a responsibility on the school leaders side, even to an extent on teachers, but so does liability. And so what we also need to ask is what are the risks of no governance and regulations? And EdTech become a powerful decision maker in education, children’s futures can be determined by, simply by, complex, difficult to understand, or impossible to see algorithms, we see even policy backing of such initiatives. For example, California’s Cradle-to-Career Data System Act, which envisions state wide data infrastructures that integrate data from various partner entities and other complex systems which we want to reach with children. Even U.S. Chamber of Commerce is ambitious to collect data from everywhere about everywhere about a child is with the with the ambition to identify opportunities to steer children to specific career pathways. The risks are also related to diminished children’s rights and freedoms, an absolute digital dependency, and predictive EdTech can also turn schools literally into factories for class and labor reproduction. So as an initiative and a follow up, something to take away from here, as in the action question, what do we do? What are the next steps for all stakeholders in a child’s life? So from the EdTech, from the industry perspective, vendors should adhere to commonly agreed policies. There needs to be constant discussion with different stakeholders and they should also be licensed to operate. It’s a radical idea, but why not. Transparency and accountability measures must be the next step up from for the use of algorithms and data processing. Liabilities must be clearly determined: who’s responsible for what within the EdTech procurement, use, and impact. Clearly there must be a position of the role of educators, and we need to we need to rebuild the trust and maintain trust in educators in a highly digitalized educational environment and ultimately more screen time is not necessarily the best intervention, even if that promises to improve to improve learning, high level consultations with different experts, just as those that are on this panel today, is required before policy regulation is designed. Thanks very much. Back to you, Dimitry.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks Velislava, and our final but certainly not our least consequential speaker is Amina Fazlullah. She is a Senior Director of Equity Policy at Common Sense, a leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of all kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Her work focuses on expanding access to technology and digital wellbeing advocacy. Take it away Amina.

[Amina Fazlullah]: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here with this group, and I will sort of take it in a slightly different direction from what you’ve been hearing. You know, my my work focuses on issues surrounding the digital divide and more specifically, the K-12 digital divide. So much of what you’ve been hearing today or sort of, I think like, the higher level thinking around even the influence of EdTech and privacy, I think these are all super important. What I can tell you about is sort of the state of play for who has access to what kind of devices and what that means. So just to start off, you know, most children nowadays, even in the United States and even with the digital divide, have access to mobile devices. Most folks who are considered to be in the digital divide typically do have access to some form of mobile devices and maybe even some amount of mobile data. So they are getting online through some form or fashion, usually through a mobile screen, small and something that they can’t produce a lot of content. So you end up viewing a lot of content, right? It’s one way, for the most part, and also has less of the more, sort of, granular tools for privacy protection and just for control over what you’re doing, what you’re seeing, what’s happening with your data. So today I wanted to speak briefly about where we are, at least in the United States, in trying to make sure everybody has access to more robust tools that would allow them to do the things that we hoped technology would enable. So maybe more STEM careers, exploration, more one on one interaction with, say, tutors or therapists or wraparound services or other peers. The ability to actually take advantage of other enrichment that you might not have available to you based on where you live. But that needs to be done through a more robust device. So what are we, what’s the state of play for that? Well, what we found at Common Sense was about, out of about 50 million K-12 public school students, 16 million, about 30% of them, are in what we call the persistent digital divide. And about 400,000 teachers are actually unable to stand up technology from their home to participate in any kind of digital curriculum from from their place. So that’s kind of our baseline right now. And, you know, that will go up and down. Since we found those numbers, the federal government has stepped up to actually try to address this in the United States. And so through ARPA, through the American Rescue Plan, $7.2 billion was set aside in an emergency fund to provide sort of a one time shot. It came through in a few windows, but over the course of a year, to support students and teachers in all 50 states through schools and libraries, to have access to connectivity in devices of a level of quality that would allow for curriculum, appropriate experiences, and also potentially support the sort of like longevity of the use of the device.
So, you know, hopefully not something that’s like, really lightweight and throwaway. The program was oversubscribed, and that just demonstrates sort of like the desire out there to be able to actually one, connect students to 1 to 1 devices, but also two to be able to make sure that they have access at home. Back in 2019, Common Sense did a report trying to understand the K-12 digital divide well before the pandemic. And what we were hearing from teachers was that they were avoiding assigning homework or assigning any kind of school related project that required digital equipment, because they knew that so many of their students didn’t have access at home. And so they would have to either find their way patch patch connectivity together so that they could do research either in a library or after hours or we’ve all heard about, you know, kids sitting outside of fast food restaurants or in parking lots. And that’s just not appropriate. And in part, that’s because many states have requirements for equitable access to education. So when you have a student who is well resourced and has access to technology and they can complete their homework, even if it’s just a few hours of homework, but they can do it at home in a safe environment. But then there’s another student who cannot and has to patch things together, that disparity will drive educators to not use technology at all. So even though the school is connected, even though the teacher is trained, even though the software is appropriate, even though there’s devices in hand at school, we are seeing the sort of backwards, sort of up the food chain, we’re seeing this distortion and the use of technology. Also, we’ve heard over the course of the year some really interesting things from educators about the use of technology, because there was such a push to make sure that everyone had access to distance learning during the pandemic. One thing that they learned was that there was so much more engagement from parents that they were hard to reach before. So parents who are low income, who might not have had their own device at home for whatever reason, weren’t able to participate using the tools that teachers were using for parent outreach, suddenly were actually engaging. And that was a huge benefit, you actually had more visibility into some of these families that, up until then, even during in-person school, were really hard to reach. That was in part because of the devices and connectivity, but also because schools were making a concerted effort to support caregivers and students with digital inclusion training so that everybody understood how to use the devices in a safe and healthy way. The other thing that we heard from educators was that this sort of push-pull of you’ve got devices for a few years, or connectivity support for a year, was hampering their ability to do any kind of long term planning of the use of technology in the classroom. So when you have that back and forth where, you know, 20% of your kids are probably going to go fall in and out of the digital divide, or fall in and out of connectivity, levels of connectivity, that are capable of meeting the tech specs of the the technology they’re using in school, then they’ll sort of opt to not use it at all. So we’ve actually heard from superintendents that, you know, if they’re going to continue to yo-yo like this, we’re just not going to make plans to use EdTech in a comprehensive way, or we won’t use more updated or modernized tools. We’ll stick to kind of our old plans and we won’t actually innovate over the course of time. And that’s really frightening to hear because it’s that disparity that’s driving sort of inaction and better understanding how you want to use that tech. At a moment where I think we’ve heard from other folks on this panel, we really do need to be concerned about privacy, where we need to be concerned about data and the and the quality of the products that you’re using. So, you know, the last thing I want to say is that, you know, there is a lot of positive momentum right now because there have been investments made by the federal government. There’s an opportunity outside of education budgets to actually start to address the K-12 digital divide. So there’s about $42 billion in funding that’s coming down the pike to address infrastructure. Parts of that can go towards connectivity programs for students and teachers. There’s also a program that’s about $15 billion that’s about the Affordable Connectivity Fund or Affordable Connectivity Program. That’s going to be a long term program, first time ever, for families to be able to, low income families, to have ongoing support for connectivity at home, and a discount for devices for parents, or for per household. And again, all of this is outside of the school system. All of this is outside of school budgets. And so there’s a real opportunity for schools and for students to actually have some solutions to solving the digital divide within the school system. Thanks.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks, Amina. So a lot a lot of food for thought there, and a lot of questions coming in the chat and pre submitted. I again want to ask that you please submit your questions now in real time if you want and I’ll get us started. I, maybe the best place to start is with Jared’s challenge about the primary function of of of computers. Because I think even if we were, let’s say, in a perfect world, Amina, to eliminate the digital divide and create a system where all children could have computers, I think one of the challenges parents face on a regular basis is how do I ensure that it meets my child’s educational needs? If, Jared, if your presentation is correct, what do I do as a parent when I put my child in front of a computer, because their school asked me to do that, in their room, so that they can complete their homework? Do you have any practical advice? And I’ll start with you and anyone else that wants to chime in, either as a scientist or as a parent Velislava, you’re dealing with it probably from that perspective as well. Go ahead.

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: From a pure learning perspective, you know that’s, the trick is it’s kind of like, remember when TVs were new, and this is just for those of us who are somewhat older, and everyone said TVs are going to change education. Once we get TVs in the classroom, it’s going to change everything. And it very well could have. But as soon as TVs entered into the home, then education lost that battle because people spent so much more time using that tool at home that now trying to plug it into an educational system. It doesn’t work with something like a chalkboard. You will only ever see that in a classroom. So that’s an educational tool. Once tech fit into our pockets, education lost that battle, and there’s no going back on it now. It will forever be facing an uphill battle to try and make this stuff work. So if for whatever reason you have to use tech at home, just know it’s going to be hard, the only way to make it useful is you have to somehow keep it so highly focused as to avoid any of those other pitfalls. So if your kid is using a computer at home, is there a way to lock that computer so that it doesn’t have access to the Internet? It only has access to the one program that kid has to use to do their, his or her, homework. Is there a way to block Windows or whatever it is so that if they have to use this, lock it down. Otherwise, the more you can unplug them, the better. You’ve got a printer, print it out. Everyone learns better reading hard copy than they do digital. Print it out. Are you doing homework? Print it out. The more people print it out, it’s easier to control where their attention is focused, where they’re learning is going, and that we don’t have to worry about this tool. So there’s no easy answer, unfortunately. But the more you can kind of think in those lines of one thing at a time, that’s where you can start to get your answers.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks. Jared receives no funding from the paper industry, to my knowledge. Does anybody have any other comments on on on on this challenge that parents face?

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: I would like to just propose on a high level, of course, because that is a battle that I’ve tried to take on, academically at least, it’s a very good question. I’m struggling myself with that because my kids are you know, they’ve got their own devices and it’s a constant battle and the distraction and the multitasking and the you know, it is a real problem. But what I believe also is that there is no, that there seems to, there seems to be no real choice when it comes to these things. And I think that conversation needs to be had with parents, with school districts, at least to provide a real option, a real choice, an alternative. It cannot be just the digital. There has to be, you know, a more powerful conversation. I think these conversations are important. They just have to reach a wider audience.

[Tessa Jolls]: I really like to reinforce that idea of conversations, because certainly a lot of early childhood research shows that talking with your children is really the best way for parents to help their children kind of navigate all of the information they’re getting through, through media and through technology. And so I think in some ways, it’s what we do outside of the technology that’s more important than the technology itself, because definitely the technology is a tool, but how do we use it? What values do we have around it? So for example, I’m thinking about, you know, we know that we’re not going to be able to take away our kids’ phones. And in fact, the threat of doing that is really detrimental to being able to have these conversations. And so finding things in common, for example, a program that you really like to watch, a game you really like to play with your child, and then being able to talk about that experience, talk about the content, talk about what’s happening here. Why, why do you think they made this? And helping your children start learning to really ask questions about their use of the technology in the media. So, for example, you know, well, who made this? You know, who are these people and how are they getting my attention? How are they keeping my attention? How important is it that they have my attention? Because we know that the business of many media companies is to keep our attention any way possible. And so our attention is really everything. And so teaching our kids, asking them questions, teaching them to ask questions, having conversations, media and technology offer really great opportunities for for learning with your child and also helping your child really be able to make their own decisions and in my own experience, I had a son who loved video games, and I’m sure that that’s a common experience. And we really set a firm line of not providing video games that were mature or that were rated for adults or even teens when they were younger. And we had a lot of conversations about why this was so. And we knew that our child was going to be able to go over to a neighbor’s and be able to play anything they wanted without any discussion. And so eventually what we saw was that our son made his own decisions about what he wanted to play and why. And I think it really came from being able to have those conversations. And we weren’t saying, you’ll never see this, you’ll never access it. But by the same token, we were saying, you know, here’s how we look at using this tool and the reasons why. So we want to teach children to self-select, to be able to make their own decisions and judgments. But they need help in getting to the point where they’re able to do that.

[Amina Fazlullah]: Yeah, I’d actually add, you know, there’s, there is, there are families, I think, that have the capacity, the resources, the time, the knowledge base to be able to provide that scaffolding and guidance for their children. But for families who are new to technology themselves or have limited time, maybe are working multiple shifts and there are different people who are taking care of the kids at different times, or they’re concerned about their kids being outside so they do have to stay inside a lot. I mean, one story that I heard over and over again from work and trying to get connectivity into public housing and getting families to use Internet service instead of cable service was, you know, I had this grandmother that said, you know, I know where they are. When I turn on my TV, they’re sitting right in my living room. I know that they’re safe. I know that they’re not somewhere getting in trouble or that somebody else is hurting them. And I think when you have those types of disparities within somebody’s life, I think you’re going to have different ways of using technology and reliance on technology. And so one I think important piece is actually not just training, teaching your children, which I think is really important, but also being prepared to train parents. So one thing we do at Common Sense is we have developed tools to guide parents in understanding technology and then actually even well resourced parents probably aren’t keeping up with like the latest application that kids are using. And so making sure that parents actually have information so that they can then guide their children and they have a sense of what the dangers are and, what the pitfalls are of just sort of saying, okay, go ahead and just watch this, or go ahead and just use this, and I think you’re safe, but not maybe realizing some of the other implications in terms of data and privacy, etc. So making sure that there’s both tools to train parents, and also kids, is important. And then also, finding multiple trusted partners to train children. I think having your parents sit down and talk to you is important. But also if you’re able to be in a school environment and hear about digital citizenship and digital literacy, media literacy, I think that’s really important, too. So making sure that schools are actually not just training teachers to use technology, but also guiding students to be better digital citizens as well.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks. Looks like everybody had something to say on that particular topic. Let me continue on the privacy theme and talk about it in two domains, both privacy in the classroom and then privacy at home. So this has two components. The first is, what do we know about educational technologies, collection and use of our children’s data? I’m sure Velislava has something to say on that. And to the extent to all of you, that parents choose to use some sort of technological solution to lock their computers down, to limit their access to distractions, do you have any recommendations about one? And please disclose if you have any conflicts related to that, and how do parents manage that to ensure that A, it works and kids don’t work around it and B, that they maintain their children’s privacy? So those are two different privacy questions, two different domains. Who wants to go first?

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: I can start with the first part of the question. If you’re okay with that.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Sure, about EdTech’s collection of data on children.

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: Yeah. I think it’s very messy, it’s political, it’s a business and it’s evolving and it also contains unknown unknowns. So it’s not a very straightforward answer. We do, well, evidence and research is showing already that there’s a lot of data that has been collected, in my research, I’ve seen that a lot of granular data is collected, a lot of advancing technologies are now optimizing on these things. And of course, there’s also the issue of, education technologies are ultimately businesses, and they’re looking to capitalize on these opportunities, there are issues in terms of privacy on at least two accounts. First, the fact that a lot of granular information is collected about children on a daily basis, and then from security perspectives, you know, the different stakeholders, the different third parties and how many parties are accessing this data. And it becomes a very, very messy, messy, ongoing problem. But the second part to my answer was that it is also a political issue because data on one hand obviously provides important information about outcomes, about, it allows for accountability to the educational stakeholders. It allows for some kind of transparency to show how, you know, the processes of education are going, where the issues are and so forth. There are opportunities to do that. But the problem is that it’s such a complex ecosystem of data systems and participants, and it’s ongoing and growing and evolving even from the from the from the side of the EdTech sector and from the side of the policy demand for more data, for different types of data and so forth. So it is a multifaceted issue. And in the middle of that is children and they are the ones that we need to be concerned about and their rights to privacy and freedoms and what happens to this data haunting them eventually along each of their futures. With regards to EdTech, there’s another element to that, again, I want to stress the fact that these are businesses, we need to look more at what they do and what their business models are, how the data that is collected on their part is utilized or is capitalized on. We see, we can draw parallels with social media and with big tech platforms, and we see how data is being capitalized on. And these are real concerns that we need to focus on in education. I will stop here just to give a chance to the others to join in, but I may want to talk about a bit more on the data complexities and the data risks.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: So Velislava let me just ask you a yes or no question. Are you concerned about your EdTech data, EdTech companies’ collection of data, on your children? Yes or no?

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: Yes, I am.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Okay. Thank you. Who wants to talk about the use of technology and invasion of children’s privacy at home? If parents are using such technological fixes to lock down childrens’ screens.

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: I could push in on, I can’t talk too much about the data and privacy issue, but I can say if you’ve got a system or program that’s going to try and lock down a computer, it ain’t going to work. Best of luck to you. That’s the big joke, during adolescence, the entire purpose of brain development, the entire purpose of social development during that stage is to push back. That is how they learn to run the machine is they try and find the cracks, they try and find the holes. They try and find where do things bend? Where do they break so, that they can create their own? That’s my language. Every teenager has the craziest language. My parents hated my language as a teen. Their parents hated theirs. I can’t stand these emoticon nonsense stuff, but that is a good example of them breaking language, so that they know how to build it up so that they can own it as adults. So when we come in and say, here’s a program that will block you out of this, 60% of them are going to go, well, cool, let me figure out how to break that. So any time we’ve ever come up with a way to try and here’s a little code that you have to type in, they will always find ways around it. In fact, we had a big, I’ve been living in Australia for the last 12 years. They did their big exit exam digitally a couple of years ago for the first time ever, and it was all locked and loaded, no one can do anything. It took, I think, 2 hours for one kid to completely break the entire system and every kid’s data got wiped. He just decided, okay, I’m going to delete the system. That’s it. 2 hours of sitting there, a kid broke something that the government’s like, yeah, we’re going to lock this down, ain’t going to work. So the only thing if you really want to lock it out is you have to remember before the Internet, devices were locked, man my original Nintendo was just a Nintendo. You couldn’t do anything but play Nintendo on it. It was once it became connected to the Internet, that now you can start hacking it and doing crazy stuff with it. So if you’re going to be using tech, pull it off the Internet, find a way to make sure that that piece of tech is not Internet connected. It’s only got a program it can run. And then some kids, like you’ll have the engineer kids who want to go in and break the board and do all the wiring, that’s awesome, let them do that. The 99% of other kids who can’t break it because it’s not an Internet tool, will just use it how it’s supposed to be used or they won’t touch it. And that’s the best way I’ve ever seen to lock that down.

[Amina Fazlullah]: I was just going to add, I think that there are, similarly there are a lot of tools that are for parents or to try to, you know, to minimize your exposure, your privacy exposure, viewer exposure. You know, some of them might work to a limited extent, but I think we’re sort of at a juncture where the onus actually has to be no longer on the parents and the kids to sort of manage all of this. A lot of this data collection is obscured to the user, and so it’s really hard to be this informed user that’s really going to protect themselves. So I think we’re in a moment where we really do need to have an onus put back on companies, whether that is through the teeth of some kind of regulation that’s a little bit more harsh than we’ve ever had before, or through, you know, actual partnerships with technology to do better. But I think it can’t be all on parents and kids to sort of navigate this. It’s just too obscure and too hard for users to actually be able to discern what’s being done with their data, who’s taking what, who’s using it for what, when will they get it back? Can they erase it? I mean, that’s just an incredible amount of work. And so ultimately, it’s really important that the tech is built either through their own initiative or through regulations and guidance from government to begin to be better stewards of data.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks. Tessa, you had something you wanted to add?

[Tessa Jolls]: You know, there were a couple of thoughts. One is that, you know, I think ultimately what we’re talking about is really building a much more robust ecosystem for helping parents, students, teachers, really everyone be able to have the tools, to be able to have options, be able to have a regulatory framework. All of these kinds of things that play into making good decisions in learning through through media and technology, but at the same time, I think there was a case in Los Angeles Unified School District a few years ago that was just a classic because it showed what the lack of having an ecosystem around all of this really could do. And that’s that LAUSD provided free tablets to students, and so there was no media literacy training around it in terms of, you know, thinking about technology in media, there was no training for teachers. There wasn’t really preparation in terms of finding good ways to integrate the technology into the classrooms. So in other words, it was just hand these kids a device, let them go. Now, all well and good, except that the kids ended up and did exactly what Jared described. You know, they went in and, you know, kind of broke the system. All right. And these kids were punished. You know, it was really looked at as a terrible thing. And, you know, I’m saying to myself, well, gee, what did they expect? You know, I mentioned earlier that self-selection, being able to learn the skills of self-governance and and really learning to make wiser choices. That’s all part of the discipline of media literacy. And so these kids didn’t have the benefit of that. And frankly, I think these kids who broke the system in a way deserved an award. They were the ones who were using the technology in the most creative ways, in the most knowledgeable ways. And yet, you know, there’s just really no tolerance, no understanding for this. And I think we definitely put too much trust into these tools that are designed to constrain and to block technology off, rather than teach everyone to learn to use that technology. That’s really the key.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks. I want to shift gears a little bit. We’ve had quite a few questions around the issue of diverse learning styles and I think it’s really important to think about that. You know, a lot of the conversations we’ve been having have been discussing both technology and students monolithically, you know, computers, good or bad, kids use it effectively or not. But there’s a huge diversity both in terms of the platforms, and of course, in terms of learning styles. The same child might find computers incredibly distracting. Another child might find them very engaging and pedagogically effective. And what about-

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: I’m gonna chime in on that. No, that’s all a myth. That’s absolutely not true. The only human beings, there is, the there are two groups of people who will find computers benefit learning. One are specific learning disabilities. If you cannot, if you’re blind, and a computer can speak to you, in specific learning disabilities, that’s where we will, you see a boost of learning. The other is, and this is a very subset of human beings, people who are too nervous to be around other human beings can learn using online live classes better than say live. Beyond that, what you see is most people find, and I’ll point this out, there is no such thing as a learning style. Every human being for 150,000 years, we’ve all learned the exact same way. And now most people get really scared when I say that. But bear with me. It makes sense. When I say human beings all digest the exact same way. No one’s got a problem with that. Yes, we eat different foods, but at the end of the day, no one’s got three stomachs, no one’s chewing cud. We have one system. We all breathe the same way. Some people smoke cigarettes, some people don’t, but there’s one system. We all learn the same way. And so the process of learning is identical for all people. We might need different inputs, but it turns out those inputs where people think, I’m a better auditory learner, I’m a better visual learner, every human being learns best when the pedagogy, the input matches the material being learned. So if we want to learn dancing, I don’t care if you’re auditory. I don’t care if you’re visual. I don’t care if you’re olfactory. Everyone learns better when they get up and dance. If you want to talk about painting, everyone learns better when they see a painting versus when they hear it described. So this idea that people learn different ways, it’s never actually panned out. Everyone will learn better when the pedagogy matches the system, which tends to be, unless you have a learning disability, better live than on a computer. Now with that said, some people, the big then thing with computers is they are highly engaging. No one has ever denied that, the computers are ridiculously engaging. You get kids sitting there for 6, 7, 8 hours on a computer. Engagement is not synonymous with learning. We have this mistaken belief that because something is engaging, you learn more from it. And that’s not true. The engagement learning continuum. Most people think it’s a straight line, right? As engagement goes up, learning goes up. It’s not. It’s what’s called a sin, it’s an S essentially. If you’re disengaged, if you have no engagement, you’re not learning. But as soon as you get to a moderate level of engagement, boom, you have the same opportunity to learn as someone who is wildly engaged and you see it in your own life, how many movies have you watched that have been wildly engaging, like those Thor movies? You’re there. Wow. Two weeks later you can’t tell me anything about it. But then there are other movies like Affliction, which are real hard to watch. They’re not engaging, they’re not fun. But because of what you do, the thinking you do over the next couple of weeks, years later, you still remember a ton from that, the engagement didn’t drive the learning. The learning drove the learning. The engagement simply opened a door. So I think it’s a good, it’s important to recognize, some people like computers because they’re engaging. Most of us don’t know what’s best for our learning. I like computers, too, but I still learn better from a book, even though I like looking at things here. I like YouTube clips. It doesn’t mean that improves our learning. So unless you have a specific learning disability, or you cannot be around other human beings for stress, well-being, reasons, there’s no evidence suggesting that people learn better on computers. There’s a group of people who just like it better. It’s just not, we haven’t seen it. It’s not there. Sorry to be that guy.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Anyone want to comment on the question or on Jared’s answer to it? We’re going to let that stand. There’s no such thing as learning styles. I will point out that Jared did mention that kids with learning disabilities, and that may very well be what the, I don’t know what the questioner had in mind, but are you suggesting, Jared, that for kids with certain learning disabilities computers may play a role?

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: Oh, they’ve been an absolute godsend. Computers and technology have absolutely changed the field of specific learning disabilities. Think of all the kids who, even go extreme, the kids who can only speak through a computer now, who we never even got to hear from in the past. So when it comes to being able to engage in, just take it back to Zoom, over COVID lockdown, if it’s the difference between nothing and something, something is always going to be better. If it’s you’re not going to do any learning versus let’s at least do Zoom. Cool. Then you get to say then is that something better than the best thing? And that’s when we say no. Look, Zoom is not going to be as good as being live. But if all we have is Zoom, then use it. And that’s where you see specific learning disabilities. There are some kids that simply cannot engage with learning any other way, but this finally opened it up. Is that the best way, might not be the best we know in the world, but man, it’s the only way they got. So in that case, it’s an absolute godsend for that. Yep.

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: Can I just kind of chime in very quickly with a question for Jared? Does it mean that, so it seems like we’ve cracked how brains work for children, especially developing children. But my question mainly is, so, do you position more importance on the role of the educator?

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: In terms of organizing the teaching and learning process?

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: Yeah.

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: Yeah, absolutely. So that’s where we get, and I think this is something Tessa was hinting at, which I think is a really good distinction. The difference between correct curriculum and pedagogy. Teachers are human beings who have, despite what they say, those who can’t do teach, well, no, we know that’s not true. Teaching is its own skill, like ice skating or car repair. It is a skill that human beings have spent decades refining, perfecting, and some people are experts at it because they devote their lives to it. And that’s pedagogy. There are ways of teaching, walking people through the learning process that these human beings have trained themselves to do incredibly well. That’s different than pedagogy. What should we be teaching? And that’s why I like Tessa. A lot of people say computers. I love that as a curriculum, as pedagogy, excuse me, as curriculum. This is something we need to learn. We need to know how computers work. Curriculum is different than pedagogy. That doesn’t tell me how to teach you about computers. So I always say like, it’s like saying I, curriculum, I want my kids to have good table manners, pedagogy, that means we should teach all classes at a table and curriculum. I want kids to be good at computers. Pedagogy, that means we should teach all things through a computer. The two don’t align. So that’s where I think. Yes, the educator knows the pedagogy. How do we walk people through learning? And if we want curriculum, computers as a curriculum bit, I love that to death, but that doesn’t mean that we automatically funnel everything through that computer as the new pedagogy. The two just don’t they don’t combine like that. Does that kind of make sense?

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, I’m really glad that we’re putting more focus on the human aspect, because learning is a highly social phenomenon. I’m very, very happy that you brought this up. And yeah, I think the second thing is one thing, the devices and the EdTech products are the technique of how we deliver, how we connect, how we do things, rather than the want, the value of the content, the quality of the content. So these are, you know, the focus seems to have shifted, which is something I tried to kind of articulate through my presentation, at least to an extent. We need to shift back to the pedagogy and the quality of the content of what values are, what do we want to teach kids and what is the role of the educator? So I appreciate your comments. Yeah.

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: The structure function, a lot of our debate, you’re spot on with, computers have been, how do we use them best? Rather than why would we use them at all? We’re talking structurally, what’s the program? What moves should it make? What should the next screen be rather than the function? What is it you’re trying to achieve? And then we can decide, does this tool best align with that, or is there another way to do it?

[Tessa Jolls]: I think this also brings up a really important point about this shift in pedagogy that’s happening and as I mentioned earlier, you know, there’s this need to really teach process skills a lot more explicitly than they’ve been taught before. And so that’s a prime example. But at the same time, I think this emphasis on what’s common with humanity is also really essential because, you know, we aren’t just looking at education from a regional perspective. We have to look at it from a global perspective because we’re all so interconnected. Learning really takes place, of course, globally. And so these lessons about what we as humans need in order to learn effectively and how technology fits into that picture. The pedagogy that we need is really a universal need. And, you know, so in that regard, where a person lives, how a person lives, all of those kinds of things are irrelevant. What really counts is the basic humanity and coming up with pedagogical strategies that work for human beings.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Let me follow up on that slightly tangentially. But, so, this, you know, I think that one of the new aspects of EdTech is this issue of virtual learning, which obviously came to the fore in the pandemic, but is continuing in many respects, either because some schools are still locked down or will lockdown in the future, or at least in the United States, with a disappearance of snow days and the expectation that those days be replaced with virtual learning days at home. We entered into this, if you will, experiment in most parts of the globe without much pre-prep and without much knowledge of how to make virtual learning work. What advice do you have, if any? What do we learn from the pandemic for parents, if they are trying to, or either, if they’re trying or if they’re forced, to revisit Zoom learning, as Jared said, in the next six months or year, have you learned anything? Do you have any advice for parents about how to make the Zoom classroom work? And please keep in mind that when we talk about students, we’re talking about everything from kindergartners to high school students. So what works for an 11th grader will almost assuredly not work for a first grader.

[Amina Fazlullah]: Well, I mean, I can say that one thing that was pointed out to us multiple times during the pandemic was that, you know, the the killer application was not, you know, some AI generated math application or something that you just plug the kid into, or super long lectures on YouTube or, you know, it was being able to connect with other humans. And so if you were able to do that in a high quality way, right, so that it wasn’t interrupted. Because when you and I get interrupted on a zoom call, we can probably figure out how to like reconnect. When a kid gets interrupted, when they’re trying to talk to a tutor or a therapist or whoever else, it could be like, you know, just knock it out completely for the rest of time and you have to wait for that next session. So connecting to other humans made a huge difference. And so in a time of crisis, being able to have some, again, when you don’t have other ways to connect to someone, having the ability to have some kind of face to face interaction where you can actually hear them through a quality connection, see them, and have almost a real time conversation, that makes a big difference. And teachers and educators told us that made a big difference in a lot of different ways. And one example was disruptions due to COVID, but another is disruptions like wildfire. Um, you know, they were communities in Oregon and California that had to move. It was close to the start of the school year, because we had already set the system up because of COVID, students were able to continue connecting to their peers and to their teachers, and no they were not learning at the level that they were before, what was more important was that they were still connected to their community even when they were displaced. And that made a difference in their ability to reconnect after that crisis moment was over, which, by the way, took many, many weeks. So it wasn’t like a day, like a snow day, but it was more like this is a crisis that lasted for a few weeks. But then I’m actually going back to this community and it was a way to stay engaged and it made a difference for continuity for those kids and social emotional learning.


[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: And if I could, I’ll push four things. If you’re going back to Zoom, and you’re going to be stuck there for weeks, too. It’s funny, the wildfires we had, the big ones along Queensland and Northern and South Wales, same thing, man. That was, and that was pre-COVID. That was when we first started to play with this Zoom stuff. Four ideas if you’re the parent. One: routine and consistency. Routine and consistency. We did this thing where because it was Zoom, cool, you don’t have to wake up till nine, you can go to bed in your, or, you can go to the class in your jammies. You can do- no. You treat that like a school day. You wake up at the same time you’re going to wake up, if your school has a uniform, bad news, kid, you’re wearing the uniform to the Zoom. Consistency and routine, they have to treat this like school. Second is, while they’re doing the learning, do as much offline. When they’re taking notes, do it offline. If they’re doing an activity, do it offline. When you write things down, as opposed to doing it in the integrated environment, when you take it off, it tends to be better for our organization comprehension and memory. So note taking, all that stuff, do it over here. Third is context. We have this problem where what we learn is there, but where we learn it becomes integral with what we learn as well. So your memory for this session right now isn’t just going to be my words. It’s going to be my words mixed with the feeling of the chair against your body. Whatever temperatures in the air around you, whatever you’re smelling right now inside, are you hungry? Are you tired? All of this gets tied up with what you learn. It determines how you can access that learning later. So when kids learn on Zoom, cool, they’re doing their learning here, a month, two months from now, when they go back to the classroom, don’t be surprised if you see a marked dip in their performance. And a lot of us go, oh, it’s because they didn’t learn anything. Nope, it’s because they tied it to this context. And now when they go back to a live classroom, it’s a totally different context. It’s much harder for them to access this learning. So it’s not that they didn’t learn it, it’s that we just need that time to transfer it over into this new context. So just be aware that that’s going to be an issue if we jump back and forth. And last but not least is this idea then of, it goes into context as well, of recall. So all of our memory, all of our learning, is based on what are we thinking about, what are we pulling out. It’s not import. Computers, Zoom, by their nature, they’re import, they’re giving us information, that’s awesome, but sooner or later, at some point, we have to get to the stage where we’re taking that information out. And that’s the one thing computers aren’t good with. So if your kids are going to be doing Zoom live here, when it’s homework time, take them out of that room, go to the table in the kitchen, go somewhere else, and now start doing things through here. So whatever context they’re learning and make sure their homework, their study, their revision isn’t going to be in the same context, flip it up to get them to start to have to recall that information a little bit stronger and better.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks, Jared. Anyone else have any practical comments? Questions, advice for parents in Zoom.

[Tessa Jolls]: I think this is such an important conversation. For one thing, I really like the approach of identifying the things that work and that are successful. So often, all we come across are all the things that are wrong. And I think where we can learn the most about dealing with online learning is by what worked during COVID. You know, if we if there were huge discrepancies, well, then it would be pretty easy to identify which school districts, which regions or so on, manage somehow to get better results, and we need to be looking at the criteria for success that are, I think, even more important and more instructive for us than looking at everything that went wrong. So that’s one thing. And then again, I’ll say that media literacy skills, again, are essential here. Media literacy can provide a consistent way of thinking critically, of changing contexts, of applying knowledge to different topics to different themes, to different subjects. And so, having that consistency, that repetition, that way of thinking that you can transfer then to many different contexts is going to be a lot more powerful in terms of learning than kind of the Whac-A-Mole approach. And so, you know, I would really like to see a lot more emphasis put on success and also on frameworks for learning that can be consistable, replicable, measurable and scalable. We need that.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: So for the parents and teachers that are listening to this now or in the future, how do they advocate based on what they’ve learned? I mean, let’s suppose now that they decide, you know, I have concerns about my child’s privacy on these platforms, or I don’t believe education technology’s working for my child, or for children in general. What do they do with that? Or I mean, they really feel the digital divide is hindering their child or the, as you said, the sort of moving up the food chain, that’s what you said, is preventing their child, what, how do we, what do parents do with that? How do they, any advice for how they can advocate for their child with their schools and how teachers can advocate for their students within their school districts? I’d like everyone to respond briefly and we’ll start with you Amina I’ll go around. I’ll call on each of you.

[Amina Fazlullah]: Well, yeah, I mean, certainly, this is a moment where there’s so much interest and awareness on the use of digital tools in education, the use of federal funds to solve issues like the digital divide writ large. So not just for students, but across the country. And so there’s a moment right now to advocate for the scaffolding solutions that we’re talking about, right. You know, parents can talk to their schools and say, you know, we want to make sure that there is a digital citizenship curriculum or that there is training, media literacy training. You know, don’t just hand technology out of the classroom and then leave it at that, make sure everybody knows how to use it and knows how to be a good digital citizen and deal with issues like cyberbullying and online addiction and a whole host of things. There are tools out there to support the use of technology, and schools can help make sure everybody has access to that. The other thing is, to families that want to have that sort of equal playing field because it’s just good for everyone, but also because it creates a better, more comprehensive education environment, right? Like, when like I said before, when administrators know that everybody has access to the same resources, they can make different decisions about the use of technology if they know that everyone has disparate access, then they will either, you know, leave some kids off line with whatever existed before, which will likely get the least amount of updating and high quality treatment, and everybody else will get some online thing, but also maybe because it’s not everybody being used, everyone’s not using it, it doesn’t get the same kind of training and treatment that it deserves. So making sure that we’re all for the use of some of these programs that are out there so that your school district, your school system, does have equal access, so the ACP program, making sure everybody has access to it, everyone will have then access to connectivity at their household. They’ll have access to a device. Schools will then have access to devices as well. I mean, it just helps create a better and stronger ecosystem for decisions around the use of technology within the educational environment. And the last thing I’ll just say is that, you know, making sure that if you do participate, that you’re thoughtful about this moment in terms of your ability, at least in the United States, to vote, because there is opportunity right now for passage of privacy legislation, for enhancements to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, for the pieces of legislation around the use of, for kids, in online platforms. So there’s actually value in having your political voice heard in this particular context. There is an opportunity to actually move the needle there too, as well.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks Amina. Velislava?

[Dr. Velislava Hillman]: Yeah, I think we shouldn’t kind of, there seems to be an urgency of sorts sometimes in conversations, and I think we shouldn’t feel like there’s a race to digitize everything, and the notion of we’re backwards or not progressive enough, progress doesn’t have to be digital only. And again, I strongly believe that there should be a focus on what works. And the foundations like Jared mentioned, consistency, and we also need to rebuild the trust in the role of the educator, the role of the pedagog. We should possibly treat technologies as tools as we originally had the conversation around them, and not as solutions that you throw in and they magically solve, you know, perceived ills and problems. And there should be sort of less hype, and more realistic conversations around what works and what not. So there should be also a conversation with the, at the sector itself, about the hype and the marketing narratives that they so powerfully disseminate.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks. Tessa?

[Tessa Jolls]: Well, I get the feeling that the education establishment is so often on the defensive, and I would really like to see more of an offense approach in the sense of, as I mentioned earlier, what’s been successful, what’s our plan, how are we going to attain the type of success that’s important to our people in our district or our region? We’ve seen that parents definitely can be activated, and they have been in the last couple of years. And I personally see this as a real positive. I know that it’s caused a lot of disruption and there’s a lot of disagreement that’s risen up. But by the same, what we’re seeing is that parents care, and they will take action if they are at a point where they feel that the needs are being met for whatever reason. And so I would like to see more leadership on the part of education administrators to really look at things from a local level. You know, at the school board level, what’s our plan? What have we learned? What are we going to be doing? And why? Secondly, I think certainly in the United States, at a state level, we need to look at financing. There’s really often no money for R&D. There’s no money for really exploring ways to learn. And this can’t just happen at the federal level. It really needs to happen at a granular level right down in the schools. And so we need to really look at different ways of financing this very important and essential learning opportunity that the schools themselves have. And then, I think the other thing I would see would be definitely having some models of schools using best practices, using knowledge gained through success and through research and, and really trying to show what that looks like. And it’s not seen as the end all, be all. It’s just saying it’s another step to modeling what can be done and putting the emphasis on the positive rather than just picking individual kinds of issues that people want to rail against. So I think that we need a positive approach to change. We need change management. We definitely want the support and participation of parents. I don’t see it happening without parents. And parents definitely have a voice and they can be heard at the school board level. They can also be heard through voting.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks. Jared?

[Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath]: Oh, you guys are going to hate me again. Sorry. My dog jumped on my lap. Here we go. I don’t know, you can call me pessimistic or call me realistic. I don’t know. There is no real advocating for this. The way I’ve only ever seen this in education, education is a monolith in that everything comes from the top down. And the only time I’ve ever seen change happen has been from grassroots, bottom up. You don’t advocate, you don’t protest, you don’t do anything. You just do it right in your classroom. So all my teachers will know this. We call the classroom the black hole because once that door closes, nobody knows what I’m doing as a teacher. I am in charge of that room. And so that’s where we see more teachers at the individual level just start to say, no, I’m not going to do that. No, I’m not going to do this. My kids never, as soon as you come into the classroom, laptops away, cell phones away, whatever, it’s going to be. Your administrators will push back against you, but you bring them the results. My kids are still performing highly. My kids, there are no behavioral issues in my classroom. So and so forth. You get enough teachers doing that at the grassroots level. That’s when the principals will say, oh, that’s interesting. And then maybe they adopt it at a school level, get enough schools doing that, that’s when the next level, the supers will go, oh well that’s interesting, then the government, it’ll never come from the top down and we will never get the top to change us. The only change in education only happens by what we do on the ground. So you’ve got to kind of suck it up and be willing to be the odd man out, and just push these things through in your room and keep getting the results. And then as things come in the future, I was always, I say that with pure experience, and I’ve lost three jobs because of that. The last uni I worked at, they forced us to film and put everything online, I just refused to do it, I put tape over the camera, I would turn off the mic and I would just teach. My students all did incredibly well, but I wouldn’t play their digital game. And so they fired me. Fair enough. That’s, I was willing to die on that hill. I’m not playing that silly game. So grassroots is the only way I’ve ever seen it go. If you can get parents involved, that’s the only time the top down will start to listen. When enough parents chime in and say, enough of this, that’s when the government will go, well, cool, our fault, capitulate, and then feed it back down. So more or less what Tessa was saying, if we can get them involved it would be awesome, it’s just I just don’t know how to organize them. And then when they come to you with the new stuff, the next new EdTech thing, oh, it’s going to happen. You’re going to get VR headsets in your room next year. Oh, it’s happening. Just demand the data. We have this issue right now that technology is being adopted, especially across education, because it has so much potential. It can change everything. It has so much potential. I got no problem with that. But remember, potential is literally what something is not. Potential is what it could be, is what it might be, but when something says it has potential, they are saying, that is what it’s not doing right now. And I’m sorry, but potential, what something could possibly do is nothing. That is not something to build the foundation of education upon. The day education meets its, or excuse me, tech meets its potential, that’s the day when we should consider adopting it. So the next time somebody comes at you with the program, just say, give me the data. Where is the data? Not of “is it engaging”? Not of “do kids like it”? Where is the data that this improves learning? And if you cannot hand it to me, I’m not going to be your guinea pig EdTech right now, as a researcher at uni, I have to pay people to do research with them. EdTech has a freebie. We are their guinea pigs and they’re not paying us a thing. They’re doing free research in our schools all the time with their new programs, and we’re just taking it on board. Until they can give us the data. Just say no, not in my classroom. Sorry. And I, your principals are going to be mad. Everyone’s going to be mad. But so long as you can keep showing them the data from your students, there’s really very little that the K-12 level of people will be able to push back against.

[Dr. Dimitri Christakis]: Thanks, everyone. We’re almost out of time. This was incredibly provocative and informative discussion and we by no means answered all of the questions in the chat in order to answer all of the looming questions around education technology. But I think at a minimum, we highlighted how important this topic is, how pervasive the issues are, and the need for organizations such as Children and Screens, in cooperation with others, to try to help parents and educators. I want to kick it back to Kris, the Executive Director of Children and Screens, for her final thoughts. Thank you all once again. It was a pleasure to meet you virtually. Kris?

[Kris Perry]: Thank you, Dimitri. And thank you, Jared, Tessa, Valislava, and Amina for joining us today for this informative and incredibly nuanced discussion. Your expertise is invaluable as we strive for the best education for our children and we greatly appreciate the diversity of perspectives and insights you shared with us today. To learn more about child development and digital media, check out our website at, follow us on these platforms, and subscribe to our YouTube channel where you can find all of our previous webinars. Please join us again on Wednesday, October 5th for our next Ask the Experts Webinar, “The Lure of Loot: Gambling and Manipulate Design in Youth Video Games”, as yet another fantasy panel of experts discuss the convergence between gambling and gaming with loot boxes, micro-transactions, e-sports betting, and more. Don’t forget to register and submit your questions for the panel. We hope to see you there.