The education system must begin to focus on the importance of balancing technology and performance in grade school classrooms.
Educational psychology is the study of how developing minds learn. However, the practice of effective educational psychology often proves far more complicated than a simple definition suggests. For example, in recent years, many educators have been surprised to find a strong link between student motivation and the availability of video game-based learning tools in the classroom. Research into learning psychology has found a strong line between student engagement and a low-stress, independent learning environment. Despite these findings, recent US education legislation has developed a learning environment that is in many ways completely counter to effective learning of a developing mind.
American education today can best be understood through a close examination of the federal Race to the Top initiative. The initiative is part of President Obama’s education reform program, which largely stems from former president Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. Like NCLB, Race to the Top increases the focus put on standardized testing. Obama’s plan awards federal funding to schools with students who score the highest on standardized assessments, as well as revising teacher evaluation and improving instruction. It is an ambitious plan for a struggling school system, so much so that some educators and psychologists worry that it may be leading to deteriorating psychological health among US students.
Reports suggest that the emphasis on testing is damaging to student morale and well-being. Most middle and high school students who now rate academic pressure as their greatest source of stress, exceeding family problems and bullying. Since the program’s adoption, stress-related illness, depression, anxiety and burnout have risen, as has abuse of academic-performance-enhancing drugs. As if the picture weren’t stark enough, teenage suicide rates have also risen. “Such a mind- and body-numbing educational experience will suck any joy of learning they may have right out of them,” says Jim Taylor, adjunct professor at University of San Francisco. “The rote memorization will sap their internal motivation to learn.”
In order to move towards a system that more fully encapsulates effective educational psychology, a growing number of universities are no longer accepting AP courses and making SAT scores optional, and some high schools are ending their AP programs outright. Many educators have also begun utilizing technology to stimulate young learners, engaging them in learning through games and even social networking technologies. These ideals are most evident at the Institute of Play, a non-profit organization that was influenced by research suggesting that students learn best in game-based learning environments. The school uses game design and game-inspired methods to teach skills and literacy. Professor and game designer Katie Salen considers the creation and use of games to be a foundation for learning and innovation in the modern world.
Over the past few decades, the field of educational psychology has uncovered a number of valuable insights into how we learn. Yet, in practice, the ideals of learning can quickly be lost under the challenges of educating an ever-increasing population of young people. In order to ensure that the education of US students is effectively preparing students while still cultivating the joy of learning, educators, lawmakers and parents must work to incorporate the principles of educational psychology early on in education and throughout each student’s learning experience.
Hanna Lindstrom is a widely cited expert in the field of educational psychology and writes for EducationalPsychology.net.