Is Education’s Digital Transformation a Game Changer for Students with ADHD?
School, like the workplace, is becoming increasingly digital. Chalk boards are now smart boards, textbooks are now screens, and schools and teachers communicate with students through online portals. It’s important to consider how these changes affect students with ADHD, and what educators and caregivers can do to help these students succeed in this Brave New Digital World with smarter IEPs and 504 Plans.
The undeniable shift toward technology in school has positive and negative repercussions for students with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). While some of these digital tools cater to the ADHD brain, others can further complicate tasks that are already difficult for them. As caregivers or educators, we must fully understand the digital changes happening in our schools and classrooms as a first step toward modern academic success.
As you read the technology changes below, keep in mind that caregivers and educators need to start thinking differently about IEPs and 504 Plans. Helpful accommodations for ADHD might include, but not be limited to, paper copies of online assessments, or paper for writing thoughts, outlines or computations while taking online assessments. Some students may need to take written tests instead of online tests. Ideally, teachers would follow a uniform posting of assignments and students with ADHD would be given assistance with computer organization.
Educational Change #1: How School Work Is Assigned
In our day, teachers wrote down assignments on the blackboard or said them out loud for their students to write down in a planner. Today, while many schools and teachers still do this, they also commonly post assignments (and changes to assignments) to an online portal such as Google Classroom, NetClassroom, Schoology, or Moodle. This might seem like a good system for students with ADHD, who no longer have to remember to write down assignments word for word — but often times teachers are not required to use the school-selected online portal, meaning students may need to consult multiple locations for their assignments.
Even within the school-selected portal, use of the technology by teachers is rarely uniform and often the portal has so many features that students get confused trying to figure out how to check assignments, due dates, and the logistics of turning them in. If important information is only shared in the portal, there may be more opportunities for misunderstanding directions or missing assignments. In addition, assignments traditionally turned in by hand can now be submitted using online tools at various times outside of the classroom, such as by 11:59 p.m. and even on weekends.
Educational Change #2: Online Learning Materials
Online textbooks sound ideal in achieving a lighter backpack, but reading learning materials on a screen can be difficult for students who struggle to maintain focus. It’s easier to get distracted by the Internet while reading digitally, and online textbooks don’t necessarily have a space to take notes.
Another trend is to have no textbook at all, just online materials like PowerPoint presentations. Because materials are online and have to be sought out, many students never go back to them or even use them at all. Printing out these materials often helps students with ADHD and learning disabilities.
Educational Change # 3: Online Assessments
Students can use a range of strategies to stay focused and solve problems during a test: highlighting directions, circling certain words, underlining, writing out questions. It’s more difficult and sometimes impossible to practice these strategies on online tests. Students don’t necessarily have space to outline their thoughts while writing a short answer or essay on a computer. They are less likely to edit their essay when writing online, especially if they’re prone to using software like Grammarly, a tool that flags most (but not all) spelling and grammar mistakes. It’s extremely important that educators and caregivers understand the importance of good keyboarding skills because online assessments favor students who keyword quickly and accurately.
Educational Change #4: Posting Grades Online
Online report cards mean that a grade can be viewed quicker, but checking grades can easily become addicting and anxiety-inducing. Teachers also might enter the incorrect grade, which means students have an added responsibility of cross-referencing to determine whether the grade is correct.
Educational Change # 5: Online Organization
There are myriad digital organizational tools available today. Instead of carrying around a planner or writing down notes, students can use software like My Homework and Google Calendar for planning and Word, Google Docs, or Evernote for notes. These latter tools are especially useful for study guides — students can continually add notes and copy and paste material into a study guide from multiple online sources. Unfortunately, just like a traditional binder, online work can quickly become a mass of disorganized documents. Helping students develop good online organizational habits is critical to academic success.
These are just a few of the changes happening in education that dramatically impact students with ADHD and other learning differences. It is important that educators and caregivers understand the digital learning landscape today — and the positive and negative impact for students — so they can help all children succeed to the best of their ability.
Romaney Berson is an ADHD and executive function coach and the founder of bFocused Coaching who works primarily with middle school, high school, and college students. The content for the following article is adapted from her CHADD presentation, “It’s a Brave New World: Digital Education and the Student with ADHD.”