While applications have been around for quite some time, it is only recently that researchers have begun to notice their effects on student thinking. Professors Katie Davis and Howard Gardner have studied the ways applications have changed student learning, and their results are making their way into Master of Education programs nationwide.
According to Davis and Gardner, apps are changing not only educational technologies, but the actual ways students engage with the world. Current students “view their lives as a string of ordered apps,” the researchers say, and this affects the ways students think. They are more likely to want an immediate answer to questions. If it cannot be answered immediately, then it is not worth asking. This effect is what Davis and Gardner call “app mentality.”
App mentality limits the types of thinking that teachers want students to engage in. When students use apps to avoid boredom, for example, they are not engaging in reflective thinking. Without this reflection, students fail to make connections in their learning.
Davis and Gardner also looked at the ways digital educational technologies are affecting students’ creativity in the visual and literary arts. Over the course of 20 years, the researchers found, middle school students’ visual art became more experimental. Conversely, they found that students’ writing became more conservative and took fewer risks.
However, Davis and Gardner are wary of blaming this change in verbal creativity on only classroom apps. Instead, they point to policies on teaching the five-paragraph essay as possibly leading to more conservative writing.
Educational technologies are finding their way into more and more classrooms. These classroom apps, coupled with apps in students’ lives outside of school, can lead to less-reflective thinking. In order to choose the right applications for student learning, teachers should think critically about the constraints each application imposes and teach students to push the boundaries imposed by these educational technologies.