At Inside SEL, our mission is to act megaphone, amplifying the great work being done by leaders in education and social-emotional learning across the country.
Throughout the past few years, we have been incredibly fortunate to help build and interact with an amazing community of educators, administrators, researchers, parents, students, and other proponents of whole child education. Many of our readers will write to us with their own stories and opinions about the future of education, and we view it as part of our goal to help share high-impact stories with as wide of an audience as possible.
The following piece was authored by Charlie Fletcher, a freelance writer living in the pacific northwest who has a variety of interests including sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more.
Education is one of the most important resources we have to offer. This is why it is so important to be cognizant of how and what we teach children. Social-emotional learning (SEL) is considered to have a generally positive impact. But, as with all teaching approaches, this can very much depend on the methods and tools used.
Increasingly, technology is finding a place as a core component of many teaching approaches. This is, of course, understandable as the world’s children are currently growing up in a digital landscape. Yet for some educators, too great a focus on technology can seem to be contrary to key SEL emotional and experiential components.
In this article, we will review some of the pros and cons of using technology in a social-emotional setting. What can be the benefits, what should you be looking out for, and how can you best find a balance?
Social-emotional learning can find some distinct benefits from the use of technology. The key is often in finding where these tools can be applied to meet the fundamental goals underpinning an SEL curriculum.
Some of these pros include:
- Collaboration. The way technology is currently being developed and utilized is largely as collaborative tools. This has particularly been the case during COVID-19. Remote elements like video conferencing software and virtual whiteboards have empowered students to collaborate. As such, this technology continues to be useful in helping children develop relationship skills. They can participate in projects and learn how to communicate even in challenging scenarios.
- Autonomy. Technology is also a tool for autonomy. Particularly in classrooms featuring children living with disabilities, the rising range of assistive technology (AT) can empower them to function independently. These are vital tools to take control of their own learning. Augmented communication devices help students to interact with their peers, teachers, and subject matter more freely. Customizable keyboards can allow kids to adapt tools to suit their individual needs. But even beyond AT, smart devices and elearning software give students autonomy over the curriculum. Each of these tools provides excellent opportunities to help students to learn responsible decision-making in respect of their online behavior. They also develop self-management techniques in understanding what tools should be used and when.
For all the advantages technology can offer an SEL education, there are some prevalent drawbacks. It’s important to remember, though, these shouldn’t necessarily be a reason not to include technology in the curriculum. Rather, it’s more helpful to look at how they can guide your approach to a responsible application of these tools.
Some of the drawbacks include:
- Isolation. Just as technology can be a positive tool for collaboration, in some circumstances it can be a negative route to isolation. There may be a tendency for students to withdraw from the group and focus on their screens. This is, of course, contrary to two of the fundamentals of an SEL education — gaining relationship skills and social awareness. However, you should also be cognizant of how this may be indicative of individual challenges. Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common experience among the U.S. population. Symptoms of stress when around other people often lead those living with the disorder to avoid social situations. There are various approaches to treatment, including therapy and medication. However, you may find your students are utilizing their focus on technology as a way to cope with their anxiety around people. It’s important not to remove this mechanism from them, but to find ways to incorporate it to fit their SEL needs.
- Inequality. Utilizing technology in the classroom requires resources. If the school is not able to provide all students with equal access to technology, students from lower-income households may fall behind. This can even extend to home assignments to utilize certain online media such as books, movies, or games. Remember that around 40% of lower-income households in the U.S. don’t have access to broadband internet at home. There isn’t just a direct learning disadvantage here. It can also lead to students feeling socially distant from more privileged peers.
Finding a Balance
The key to addressing any issue with advantages and disadvantages is establishing whether there is a route to creating a balance. There will always be challenges. But you need to establish if overcoming these will take time, effort, and resources that can be better spent in educating students in other ways.
Whenever you consider technology in your SEL curriculum, it’s worth taking a little time to perform a form of risk assessment. Look at what elements may present stumbling blocks. This shouldn’t just be in a practical sense but also to the social-emotional intentions of your teaching. For instance, if you’re teaching SEL remotely, review the specific hardware and software you’ll be using. Assess them for practicality and efficacy against the specific types of SEL activities. Consider whether the technology or the activities can be better adapted to suit your goals. Above all else, aim to provide a better experience to your students.
Social-emotional learning can be affected by the presence of technology in the classroom. There may be advantages in utilizing it for enhanced collaborations and empowering students. Similarly, aspects of technology that encourage isolation can be detrimental to social education. It’s important to establish as early as possible how compatible technology is with your curriculum. Look at whether either the tools or the activities can be adapted to give your students the best possible education.