How Can Technology Help in Education

The social aspect of human life cannot be overstated. Thus, even education hinges on relationships. These relationships are between a parent and a child, and between a teacher and a pupil. It is through these connections that one may find technology enhancing basic education. In order to be useful, technology must facilitate, not replace, the engagement between a child and a parent, between a pupil and a teacher.

In a recent editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics, Radesky and Christakis write:
To be sure, it is important to understand that not all electronic toys—or for that matter apps—are the same, and content drives both the experience and the outcomes. For example, a randomized trial of Bedtime Math, an app that is intended to improve mathematical skills, showed benefits in first-grade students. Notably, the app is structured to promote parent-child interaction and provide a narrative with which to discuss simple mathematic problems. In other words, it drives triadic attention between child, device, and caregiver. Such content and formal feature design elements are important to the educational potential of digital play and need to be a new industry standard. Any digital enhancements should serve a clear purpose to engage the child not only with the toy/app, but also transfer that engagement to others and the world around them to make what they learned meaningful and generalizable. Digital features have enormous potential to engage children in play—particularly children with a higher sensory threshold—but it is important the child not get stuck in the toy/app’s closed loop to the exclusion of real-world engagement. Bells and whistles may sell toys, but they also can detract value.
In the above paragraph, Bedtime Math is highlighted.  Bedtime Math is an app that delivers a short math story or problem on a daily basis. The following is an example:

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.


December 30, 2015

Fast and slow animals can be any size. A cockroach and a snail are both small, but that zippy roach will leave the snail in the dust. And the two-toed sloth, which moves only a few inches a day, can’t keep up even with the tiny snail! So our friend Troy W. wondered, how long would it take a mouse to cross the super-long bridge near his house, and how long would it take a cheetah? Troy lives right near the Thi Nai Bridge, the longest sea bridge in the whole country of Vietnam. It’s 8,127 feet long (2,477 meters), or about 1 1/2 miles. Well, mice can run up to 8 miles an hour, pretty speedy for their size: that’s faster than we humans walk, but slower than we run. 1 1/2 miles is 3/16 of 8 miles, so the mouse could cross it in 3/16 of 1 hour — about 11 minutes. The cheetah, though, could blast across at a steady 60 miles an hour, which is a mile every minute. So a mile and a half would take him only a minute and a half! That leads to our next question: why did the chicken cross the bridge?…
Wee ones: Who’s faster, you walking at 4 miles an hour, or a mouse moving at 8 miles an hour?
Little kids: If you, the mouse and the cheetah all want to cross, but only 2 of you can go at a time, how many ways can you pair up? (Don’t worry about the order, just who’s with whom.)Bonus: If the cheetah crosses in 2 minutes and the mouse takes 11 minutes, how long does the cheetah have to sit and wait for the mouse?
Big kids: If you run across that 1 1/2-mile bridge and then run back, how far have you run?  Bonus:If you can ride a bike at 30 miles an hour, how long would it take you to ride across and back? (Hints if needed: An hour has 60 minutes…and what fraction of that will you need?)

Wee ones: The mouse is faster!
Little kids: 3 ways: you and mouse, you and cheetah, cheetah and mouse.  Bonus: 9 minutes.
Big kids: 3 miles.  Bonus: 6 minutes. 3 miles is 1/10 of the 30 miles you can do in an hour, so you need 1/10 of an hour.
And thank you Troy for the cool fact about your country’s big bridge!

The key here is that the story or problem is sent to a parent or caregiver. Math then becomes an interaction between an adult and a child. Berkowitz and coworkers have examined the effectiveness of this app and their results are published in the journal Science. And their findings are summarized in the following figure.

Above copied from Berkowitz, et al. Science
Berkowitz and coworkers specifically compared results between those who received a math assignment with those who received only a reading assignment. Based on this comparison, it is clear that for an app to be effective in helping children learn math, not only should it promote engagement between a parent and a child, but a specific encounter between three: parent, child and math. Not all technology are bad for basic education. Some can actually help.