From the start of my campaign, I have said that the Berkeley Heights Board of Education is responsible for "Building the Future" of our students and education. Our children will undoubtedly impact the future of work because of the education they receive in our school system. Parallel with the future of education is technological disruption— technology is altering every industry in countless ways, and education is no different. We have already seen technology disrupt the classrooms of our students because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Our district needs a far more nuanced approach to technology, an approach that makes sense for how kids and teens learn and for how they will use technology in the future. Given the changes in how learning occurs as a result of COVID, work in this area is critical and more difficult.

Mueller and Oppenheimer (Psychological Science, 2014 -"The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking") found that use of laptops for note taking resulted in impaired learning -students performed more poorly on conceptual questions when compared to students who wrote notes.

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"Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning. Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture. Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention. By contrast, when typing students can easily produce a written record of the lecture without processing its meaning, as faster typing speeds allow students to transcribe a lecture word for word without devoting much thought to the content." https://to.pbs.org/31gTg7s

There is another side to this. That while we need to reconsider the use of technology due to its negative impact on learning, we need to invest more heavily in relevant and helpful technologies that improve our children's ability to compete in the global marketplace.

We must explore and help our children become comfortable with and master innovative technologies that will help them compete in an economy where automation is occurring at an exponential rate. I believe it is the responsibility of schools to acquire and implement versatile learning tools that can help explain concepts, enhance projects, access student development, and more.

Lastly, there is an emerging body of evidence that supports exploration in the use of Virtual Reality in helping children with special needs in the school environment. VR can be helpful with regard to practicing social skills, as an example, in ways that are more accessible and proximate to real life situations while being less intimidating than traditional in-vivo. This is not a prescription, just one idea of many that can be considered. We can explore ways to equip our counselors and educators with technologies that seek to help children and teens with special needs more effectively and efficiently. https://bit.ly/3477NVa

And so all of this comes down to what feels like a paradox:

Our children will benefit by using less technology to learn and will benefit by learning to use more technology.

If elected, I will encourage the District to pursue a community based approach that include parents employed in the technology sector, educators and mental health professionals to reevaluate our current use of technology and develop concrete recommendations that will seek to use technology in a way that is more precise and beneficial to our children and teens. My name is Sai Bhargavi Akiri, I am running for the children and families of Berkeley Heights.