Technology addiction concerns educators

Overuse of technology viewed as a detriment

A group of NDP freshmen gather over cell phones during break (Anna Sera/The Seraphim)

A group of NDP freshmen gather over cell phones during break (Anna Sera/The Seraphim)

By Anna Sera, Staff Writer

A cluster of teens sit together in a school courtyard. Despite their proximity, the group is not conversing with their “friends”. Rather, they all appear disconnected from one another, living in the allegedly much more glamorous and exciting world in their hands. The students occasionally glance toward the others around them, but most of the time it is only to comment on something funny they see in the five inch rectangle of glass and metal that controls their lives. As silly as it sounds, this is not the start of a young adult dystopian novel, but rather it is what one can observe on almost any given school day at Notre Dame Preparatory High School.


From cell phones to laptops to iPads to tablets to televisions to the new Amazon Echo, technology is a constant presence in the modern world, and new gadgets appear on the market every other day. Technology addiction is a fairly recent virus that has been covertly taking control of almost all Millenials for a little over a decade.


NDP Senior Andrew Atkinson stated, “As long as it’s used right, technology’s good, but some people overuse it and that’s when it can start to become a detriment to their education.”


According to a 2015 study by the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, which surveyed 1,519 students from 127 school classes, “Smartphone addiction occurred in 256 (16.9 percent) of the 1,519 students. Longer duration of smartphone use on a typical day, a shorter time period until first smartphone use in the morning, and reporting that social networking was the most personally relevant smartphone function were associated with smartphone addiction. Smartphone addiction was more prevalent in younger adolescents (15–16 years) compared with young adults (19 years and older).”


According to Trudy Wallingford, the NDP Registrar, all of the students on campus are below the age of 19. If the results of this study were applied to Notre Dame, which has a student population of 940 and fits the age group,  that would mean that approximately 160 students are addicted to technology. However, it is possible that these students are unaware of the extent and long term impact of their addiction.


The 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey conducted by Deloitte found, “Overall, the number of times users look at their phones has remained nearly constant for the past three years at approximately 47 times per day. Similarly, 89 percent of consumers looked at their phones within an hour of waking up, a yearly increase of only one percent. Before going to sleep 81 percent looked at their phones within an hour, consistent with 2016.”


It is often more difficult to gauge one’s own situation than it is to judge the status of another’s situation. NDP Senior Riley Matson was uncertain as to how much time she actually spends in front of screens every day.


Matson said, “I’m kind of addicted, but I avoid it as much as I can at school. At home, I kinda am, but I try not to be when I’m at school.”


However, she was quick to determine that the addictions of her classmates far surpassed her own saying, “They can’t do the simple task of putting the phone in the tree and they have their phones out in class. It’s like they can’t stand to be away from their phones for the 45-50 minutes of class time that we have.”


While students may not be able to recognize the addiction in themselves, other students, parents, and administrators recognize the problem in others. Naomi Santaella has been teaching students for the past 10 years and is a current NDP Spanish Instructor. As part of the Spanish Four Advanced Placement course, Santaella teaches an entire unit on Science and Technology. During this time, students read different texts, such as “Facebook: El Monstruo de Dos Cabezas” (“Facebook: The Two Headed Monster”), which discusses the dual nature of technology, and  “No Sin Mi Movil” (“Not Without My Phone”) which addresses the topic of nomophobia, the fear of being without one’s phone.

NDP Senior Tommy Roskos plays video football as Theology starts. (Anna Sera/ The Seraphim)


Santella said that the activities and time spent in discussion about technology addiction helps the students reflect on their lives and time spent in front of screens.


She said, “I think they realize that they are really addicted, but it has also impacted me because I understand that not every student is like that. There are some students who don’t care about it or have to be with their phones all the time, and then there are some students who didn’t know how addicted they really are to their screens. That’s usually the time they realize it.”


In her years at NDP, she has noted that there have been changes in student behavior as technology has become more advanced.


Santella said, “I have noticed that before (students) would pay more attention in class because they would have to take notes. They would have to pay attention and look and listen. These days, with the phone and technology in general, it’s easy because everything is on the internet or they just take a picture and have they all the information. Students are more distracted with the technology these days.”

NDP students can text on laptops and iPads as easily as on cell phones (Anna Sera/The Seraphim)NDP


Constant distractions and poor grades are just two possible consequences resulting from inappropriate technology usage. There are other negative repercussions to cell phone addiction, including an all-expense paid trip behind the small, beige, brick-wall separating the library and the counsellors’s office, where the Dean of Men and the Dean of Women reign. According to Carl Hess, the Dean of Men at NDP, technology-related incidents are common on the campus.


Hess said, “several times a week, a teacher will come to me with a cell phone and say, ‘So and so was warned. They were told not to use their phone during such and such activity. Here it is’. If it makes it to my office, it’s probably pretty bad.”

There are only 13 detentions officially on record, which are related to misuse of cell phones or iPads for the 2017-2018 school year. However, this number does not reflect the number of times students have spent class time texting or playing games. It only reflects the number of incidents in which students were caught using their devices in an inappropriate manner during the school day, and the issue escalated enough to warrant a detention.


Tanya Bartlett, NDP Assistant Principal for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, advocates for teachers to address the issue of technology misuse in the classroom.


She said, “We empower our teachers to tell students to put their technology away if they don’t want it out. If the students are disrespectful and don’t listen, then it’s a discipline issue and that’s a detention. We encourage teachers to manage their classroom in a way that engages the students, so they don’t feel compelled to play games.”


From the view of teachers and administration, the issue of phone misuse has become easier to control thanks to the somewhat recent institution of the cell phone trees. The “cell phone prisons”, as they are affectionately nicknamed by teachers and students alike, became a staple of NDP classrooms in 2016. The cell phone trees are plastic shoe racks, which hang on the doors or walls in nearly every classroom on campus, with the exception of the cafeteria, gym, and library classrooms. Each of the shoe slots has a number written in black marker.

Phone trees are a common sight in the NDP classrooms (Anna Sera/The Seraphim)


At the beginning of the year, or the semester for shorter classes, students are given a number, which is their assigned phone slot for the duration of the class. As the students enter each class, they are expected to put their phones in the tree before taking their seats. There they shall remain for the period, unless the teacher gives permission for the phones to be removed for an activity or free time. Otherwise, students only have access to their cellular devices during the four-minute period between classes, break, and lunch.  Many teachers use this system to help them take attendance. Others simply enjoy having the undivided attention of the students. According to the Dean of Men, the main advantage of the cell phone trees has been the decreased amount of time students spend meandering about campus wasting class time.


Hess stated, “(There are)less people leaving the classroom to just sit on their phones. Often, kids will say they have to use the restroom, but then I walk around campus and I find them texting and using the phone, that kind of thing.  I would hope that it cuts down on the desire to look at the phone every time someone sends a text. It may not eliminate it entirely, but it hopefully has cut down on that.”


However, the trees have not been able to cut down on the misuse of iPads. According to Hess, it is less common that an iPad-related issue reaches his desk, but it is not entirely unseen.


“ It could be an iPad too now and again,” noted Hess. “But usually the misuse is with the phones. The iPad stuff is usually video games or streaming video when you’re supposed to be paying attention in class. It’s a little bit tricky because if you don’t do your assignment, then you don’t get a good grade, but the timing of the (misuse) is really important. If they’re doing it during the examen that’s really bad, but if it’s free time and you’re just wasting your time, that’s a little different. Still, it’s misuse regardless.”


The iPads have been a important part of the curriculum at NDP for the past five years. The iPads were quite a dramatic change for the previously paper-heavy campus.


“When the idea was introduced,” said Bartlett. “there was no technology allowed in the classroom. We had the laptop carts, but students weren’t allowed to have cell phones or any devices, except the laptops.”


According to Bartlett, former Principal David Gonsalves began the conversation about whether or not Kindles could be used to read the books in English classes. As technology advanced, the conversation changed to tablets in the classrooms. Eventually, the school put together a committee of parents, students, and faculty, including Bartlett, to further discuss the idea. Using Brophy College Preparatory, an all-boys, Jesuit high school in Phoenix, as a model, and taking advice from now Saint John XXIII, NDP administrators decided that the iPad was the most effective instrument for teaching.


Regarding the need for change, Bartlett said, “We realized that a large segment of our population coming from the main feeder schools were already using this technology, and to go back to textbooks would be a hardship for them. At the same time, textbooks were getting more and more expensive, until eventually digital editions were more cost-effective. (…) iPads are still the instrument that we can do the most with.”


The transition started when the students of the class of 2017 were freshmen in 2013. Since then, most of the necessary classroom materials can be accessed online.


Bartlett commented on the desire to add technology slowly, rather than giving all grades iPads in one fell swoop saying, “We decided to implement the new technology incrementally, starting with the freshman class. This meant that the classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016 all received hard copies, while the class of 2017 received their textbooks digitally. Today, we don’t have textbooks on campus, except for sample copies that teachers might have for extra material.”


Now the faculty and staff cannot imagine campus life without iPads. They have been an important part of education, allowing access to applications and platforms that were impossible for previous generations to utilize.


“There are times,” said Hess. “when technology is not necessary and it’s actually probably a detriment. Then, there are other times where (technology) allows and permits things that are just not possible when using pen and paper. I think we’re getting smarter about when it’s effective and when it’s not and I think we’re going to continue to learn more about that as the years go on.”


As long as students continue to use their devices for the betterment of their education, teachers and students agree that iPads and cell phones are beneficial, but when they become a means of playing “Flappy Bird” and other games, it’s probably time for an iPad-sized phone tree, so the campus does not turn into The Giver or some other teen fiction dystopia.

NDP Senior Riley Matson engages in a book before class (Anna Sera/ The Seraphim)