Navigating the Back-to-School Technology Craze

by Matt Klassen on August 25, 2014

If you’re a parent or simply one who likes to watch TV you’ve no doubt noticed the commercials advertising back-to-school supplies; you know, the ones that have been playing since the day after school finished for the summer. Recently one particular commercial caught my eye, a Best Buy advertisement that featured a father giving his son an old laptop to use at school, an apparent travesty that needed the heroic intervention of a blue-shirted Best Buy employee. The tagline was simple, “Hand-me-downs are hand-me-don’ts,” concluding with the father and son happily shelling out hundreds of dollars (if not more) for a top end laptop.

While admittedly such commercials are a dime a dozen during the back-to-school season, this particular one gave me pause, leading me to once again think about what technology our kids really need as they head back to the hallowed halls of academia, and given the sharp spike in technology sales during this time, it’s a question parents are struggling to answer as well.

In fact, parents often find themselves buried under a torrent of targeted tech advertising designed specifically to convince you that your children, regardless of their age, need the latest and greatest technology to learn; a sentiment your children will likely echo. But technological wish lists aside, in this modern age of mobile devices—smartphones, tablets, netbooks, portable video game consoles and everything in between—what do your children really need as they prepare to return to school?

I’ll admit that despite my role as a technology and telecommunications blogger I do remain, as I’ve said before, predominantly a technology skeptic. Simply put, while I recognize the benefits technology can have in our lives, I cringe at our culture’s absolute dependence on it. Not only that, but having taught at several colleges and universities, I’ve seen first hand what technology does to the modern student, and while I used to cringe at Wikipedia being cited as a reliable source, today I’m more concerned about Netflix and mobile games distracting students in the classroom…but I digress.

Returning to what students really need for back-to-school, let’s start with elementary school. From my perspective, an elementary school age child needs almost no technological assistance. Personally, I would avoid giving child of this age group anything but a simple and straightforward ol’ fashioned cellphone (not a smartphone, mind you) that he or she could use in case of emergencies. Some introduction to technology may be able to happen at home, but for back-to-school, tech remains unnecessary. Heck, I would avoid giving a child a calculator until high school.

But what about high school students? Several years ago a nationwide study revealed that 3/4s of Canadian high school students carry some sort of Internet-enable device (gaming device, MP3 player, tablet, laptop or smartphone), and I’m sure today those numbers are much higher, likely in the mid 80 percent range. I’ll admit I find this a travesty: high school students don’t need many of these sorts of gadgets, as the only purpose they serve is to distract kids from the educational tasks at hand. Fortunately most high schools have rules governing the use of these devices.

Of course I’ll admit that learning how to use a computer (or technology in general) is important at this age, but most high schools come equipped with computer labs and at home a family PC will likely suffice.

It’s when we hit university that modern mobile technology really starts to play a role, but with computer and gadget stores advertising laptops, tablets, and smartphones as the three “must-haves” for this school year, it can be difficult to find out what is really needed. It’s here that you’ll need to make some decisions, are you looking for educational tools or simply technological gadgets?

If you want to strike a solid balance, consider a modestly equipped laptop or Notebook, a portable computing device that gives your child access to the Internet, an easy way to take notes and an entertainment platform. Sure the salesperson (and likely your child) will tell you that a tablet is the better choice, but truthfully tablets are still in large part consumer products, meant for fun but not really for productivity.

In the end I do certainly recognize that technology is playing an ever-increasing role in the education of our children, with some schools introducing tablets and other mobile tech into the classroom. But even if tablets and other mobile tech are playing an increased role in the classroom, that doesn’t mean your child necessary needs brand new gadgets to head back to school.

Ultimately what you think your children need as they return to school is really up to you, but before you pull out the credit card take a minute and decide what devices will really help with your children’s education, and which one’s may actually hinder it.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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