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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 3, No. 4 - July/August 2011

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Technology in Schools: Help or Hindrance?

By Dr. Joan Brien

We probably all agree that the world of technology is changing so rapidly that it is often difficult to keep up with the latest trends. It is a technological world and our children have to learn how to function in that world. As parents, it is easy to feel confused by the array of technological skills that our children seem to find so easy to cope with.

A major innovation in technology that has been adopted by our schools is the interactive whiteboards (sometimes called SmartBoards).

These provide the students the opportunity to learn basic facts in an interesting and interactive way. For most students, using and copying information from a SmartBoard poses no problems but for some, the glare emanating from the screen makes using and copying information extremely difficult and uncomfortable.

Another relatively new introduction into classrooms is the whiteboard. While this has been used for some years, there are children who have real trouble coping with having to copy from them due to the glare reflected off their surface.

The other technological advance that our children are using at school is the computer. Sometimes this begins in the first year of school and these are also a source of glare that can cause visual stress in students.

Some of these children may have Irlen Syndrome/Scotopic Sensitivity which is a visual processing problem that is caused by sensitivity to particular wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum.

Along with this sensitivity, the majority of these students also experience photophobia, which may cause eyestrain and in some cases, headaches whenever they are exposed to sources of glare like SmartBoards, whiteboards and computer screens.

Many of these children suffer watery, sore or itchy eyes every day at school just from the fluorescent lighting used in most classrooms, so these problems are increased dramatically with the glare from whiteboards, SmartBoards and computer screens.

For some children with Irlen Syndrome, different coloured whiteboard markers make it virtually impossible to see the words or numbers written by the teacher on the whiteboard.

One client reported to me that whenever the teacher used a red whiteboard marker, she could not see the words.

A Year 6 boy told me that when the teacher uses black whiteboard marker on the whiteboard, "it's freaky". When we discussed what he meant by that, he said that when he is copying from the whiteboard and the teacher has used black marker, some of the words "move" rapidly from the top of the board to the bottom.

He did not understand what was happening and was obviously frightened by what he saw. Typically though, he did not mention it to anyone, because he thought they would think he was "mad" and he thought that he had "something wrong with him".

Once he learnt that he had Irlen Syndrome and that Irlen Spectral filters (lenses) would stop this from happening, he was better able to cope with it.

Checklist to Minimise the Effects of Glare from this Technology

  • Look for signs of visual discomfort when children are looking at sources of glare like whiteboards, SmartBoards & computer screens. These include:
    • Children rubbing their eyes frequently while looking at the board
    • An inability to concentrate on the board while copying
    • Red, irritated eyes
    • Complaining of headaches
  • Be aware that if the classroom lights are turned off while the Smartboard is used, there is an increased chance that children will suffer more from the glare than if the lights were left on. This also applies to the home situation.
  • Be aware that some coloured text may not be clear to all students whether it be on a whiteboard, SmartBoard or computer screen, so ask the question "Can you see what is written on the board or screen?"
  • In the school situation, not much can be done about the glare from whiteboards but in the case of SmartBoards and computer screens, the background can usually be changed so that the background is not stark white.

Prior to these latest technological advances, students copied from blackboards which were not reflective, computers were not routinely used in the classrooms and there was no such thing as a "SmartBoard" so the main source of glare that students were exposed to was from their exercise books or reading books

Knowing how to use technology is essential to the modern day student, but administrators need to be aware that for some, it is a problem. In its most severe form, the visual stress created by this technology can affect a student's academic achievements, but this has nothing to do with their academic ability. There is a need for teachers and administrators to identify these children and take steps to investigate ways in which the visual stress experienced by them can be minimised.

More Information

Dr. Joan Brien
Irlen Diagnostic Clinic
Suite 2/136 Nelson St
Wallsend NSW 2287
P: 02 4955 6904


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