Film spurs conversation on tech use in Birmingham schools

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 19, 2018

BIRMINGHAM — The Birmingham Public Schools district is exploring the effects that constant access to technology may be having on students after several screenings of the documentary “Screenagers.”

The film follows Dr. Delaney Ruston, who looks at the different issues that arise from kids’ growing use of mobile devices. It includes topics such as how it affects school life, how it affects social standing, gaming addiction and family dynamics.

Educators in Birmingham Public Schools thought it was a subject worth discussing with students and parents.

“It began with our central office folk,” explained Kyle Hall, the principal of Seaholm High School. “They made contact with the producers of the movie and got the rights to show it. We showed it at Groves High School last month, and there was such strong feedback we wanted to show it here.”

In addition to Groves, the district screened the movie for staff members, as well as several of the district’s health, student leadership and psychology students.

“I hope the kids take away awareness of their technology use and (that it) encourages them to ask themselves questions like if it’s hurting their relationships with people, if they’re spending too much time on video games or if using their phones is hurting their grades,” remarked Hall. “I hope parents examine their own use of technology and look to see what the impact is on their lives and their family’s lives because of this constant stream of information.”

The film viewings have started a dialogue in the district about how to best teach students to balance the use of things like social media and video games with their education.

“We started with a discussion about technology and the effects on our students,” said Hall. “We saw some behaviors that bothered us, like disengagement in lessons and classroom activities and not being able to put down their devices in class. Some teachers have started collecting phones at the start of class, and we saw that did cause improvement to engagement.”

Todd Hoover, a math teacher at Seaholm and a father of two, said that although he welcomes the use of new technology in teaching, he is among the teachers who stop students from using phones in the classroom.

“I like that we have tech in our classrooms,” he said. “The district spent a lot of money on laptops and printers and other devices; they are great resources, but you can’t let phones get in the way. I don’t allow them in the classroom. They have to stay in their bags or in a basket I put at the front of the class.”

Hoover’s wife, Nancy Hoover, said one of the most relatable parts of the documentary is the difficulty in implementing new rules with teenagers.

“You may be making these changes with your kids, but if other parents aren’t doing it too, it makes you sound like the bad guy,” said Nancy Hoover. “It’s so easy to give in or ignore the boundaries you put in place because the conflict with your kids just gets tiring after a while.”

Both agreed that one of the keys to creating positive change in their children’s lives in regard to technology is taking an honest look at their own device use.

“Not only are my kids on their phones too much, I’m on my phone too much. If I want them to change, I need to change,” said Todd Hoover.

Hall and the other Birmingham administrators are hoping this new awareness of modern technology issues causes changes in how schools address technology use, or at least helps promote honest discussions on the topic.

“We’re doing a lot of research this year regarding technology and raising awareness of these issues,” said Hall. “As an educator, you just can’t ignore it.”