In response to Will Richardson’s recent post about ADHD, These Pills are your Grades I repost a work I did several year ago on my old Byte Speed Blog site. It is called “Digital Ritalin.” —TBH
I have given enough instructional technology trainings over the years that it is not uncommon for me to hear teachers tell me, after they try what they learn, something like this: “My students got really excited about using this technology” or “My student that usually doesn’t work very hard really worked on these projects,” or “My students became really focused when they were making a project like this using technology.”
Of course, there are hundreds of studies that show when students use technology to create content achievement increases, and even a few studies that show kids wished there was more technology in the classroom than what is currently is available.
I was at a large educational technology conference and attended a presentation on how students are using Apple’s iMovie for elementary science classes. (iMovie is an easy-to-use movie editing program.) I was interested because the presenters were from a district that was similar demographically to mine. During the presentation, which was quite good by the way, one of the presenters said something that really go me wondering if technology has a greater impact on learning than we think:
The presenter said, “I even have one kid that is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. From the Kid’s Health Website: “Kids with ADHD act without thinking, are hyperactive, and have trouble focusing. They may understand what’s expected of them but have trouble following through because they can’t sit still, pay attention, or attend to details. Of course, all kids (especially younger ones) act this way at times, particularly when they’re anxious or excited. But the difference with ADHD is that symptoms are present over a longer period of time and occur in different settings. They impair a child’s ability to function socially, academically, and at home.”).He has a really hard time paying attention in class, even with his meds. When we do these videos however, he is really focused and stays on task the whole time. He really likes doing these, and it is like a relief for him when we do movies.”
So, there you have it: Technology as Digital Ritalin.
What do we give Ritalin, or any associated drug for ADHD for? We give it to kids to calm them down, help them focus, curb their need to fidget, talk out of turn and the other associated host of symptoms that can disrupt a class. While I personally would never use Ritalin (a stimulant) on my kids, there are a whole lot of folks who do. I am not a physician, nor am I psychologist. However, perhaps we should try another type of therapy for these kids: Digital Ritalin.
Suppose that instead of pumping our children with drugs, we pump them full of technology? If technology can get kids focused, then perhaps we need to be prescribing digital Ritalin instead of actual Ritalin. Take two iMovies and call me in the morning.
I make the supposition here that technology can have the same effect as any of the drugs we give kids that may or may not have long-term effects on their emotional and physical growth. Technology does not stunt growth; technology can focus students (ever watch ADHD kids play a video game?); and technology can teach. Perhaps technology is not as long lasting as the once-every-24-hours pill, but while the kids are in school, it may just do the trick. I was talking to a friend of mine, who has a child that had been diagnosed with ADHD. While we were talking at his house for well over an hour, his son never once looked up from his X-Box. I pointed that out to my friend, and he told me his son would regularly play for 3 hours at a time on his video games. Attention deficit? Not for video games. Not for that kid.
Most non-medical treatments for ADHD are behavior modification-type ones: employ routine, create an organized structure, vary assignments, etc. Creating movies employs routines, varies assignments, and provides organized structures. Technologies such as iMovie where children are the creators of content have all of those built therapies built into the product. Technology is Ritalin without the follow-up visits.
The presenter also said that his Special Education students with higher abilities also took to the iMovie assignments much easier and quicker than they did to “traditional” classroom assignments. Perhaps it was the novelty of it all, but perhaps there is something to it that goes beyond simply jumping out of the teaching “box.” The New Jersey Institute of Technology announced last year that they were beginning a five-year study on the effect of using video games as therapy for cerebral palsy patients. It isn’t much of a logical leap to wonder if technology like creating movies can also be used as therapy in a similar matter. Students become more focused, students learn exactly the same things we always wanted them to, but we are also teaching them new skills and perhaps, rearranging some neural pathways in the process.
So can we use Technology as a “Digital Ritalin?” I think that, at least from the completely and unscientific feedback that I have gotten through doing educational technologies training for more than 20 years that it is worth a look. Besides, what have we lost if my theory is completely wrong? We haven’t lost anything. Maybe we get the next Spielberg out of it.
George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, was one of those kids who was bored with school and would have been diagnosed ADHD. He started the George Lucas Educational Foundation (www.edutopia.org), now one of the world’s leading advocate groups for integrating technology into the classroom, specifically to help students that have trouble learning through “traditional methods.” He understands the power of technology. He understands that genius can be hidden almost anywhere and doesn’t necessarily come from lectures and textbooks.
And consider this if you have just pooh-poohed that idea out of hand:
How many of you have been on the computer, doing something, and realized that you had just spent a whole lot more time than you thought you did? Focused were you? Engaged? Absorbed? Now, how many of you, with your hands still I the air, start to fidget after sitting in a meeting for more than 10 minutes? Are you any different than a kid? No. If technology can absorb you that way, it can absorb your kids as well.
Dr. Tim prescribes Digital Ritalin for all of you. Call me in the morning.