Healthy Technology Use at Home With Anneliese Pixton

Girl using computer on couch

Technology in the home is always a relevant topic, but in the current educational climate it’s especially relevant for both educators and parents. It’s a topic that is familiar to Anneliese Pixton, the founder of implementEd, a company that focuses on the implementation of EdTech software in schools while voicing the needs of educators. 

Anneliese is a former educator who from 1999 to 2014 focused on ELL support, LEA leadership, federal programs, and special education. Since then she’s worked at Imagine Learning and then at Positive Learning, where she was a Chief Academic Officer. Her varied experiences give her an informed perspective around the use of technology in education. 

SS: Have you seen an increase in the use of technology in your home since the changes that have occurred as a result of COVID-19? 

Pixton: You know, we’ve always been pretty deliberate in our house about technology usage but I know that's a reflection of privilege. My husband and I have the luxury of being home and available and not every family, including really great families, have that luxury. So I would say it's actually been pretty steady for us. 

We’ve always used it intentionally for education and we continue to use it now too. But, I know a lot of families around me that really didn't use screens at all beforehand as an intentional choice and they've seen a really sharp uptick. And I know other families that now that mom and dad are home, they've made decisions to really cut down on screen time. So, I think it's been kind of all over the place. I think the thing now is intention. People are being a lot more intentional about what they're doing.

With you being an advocate for technology and a parent, what have you seen are the benefits of your own children using technology in the home?

Like I mentioned before I’m looking at this as an opportunity to help my kids be intentional about the time that they spend on a screen. I'm not going to tell you that my kids don't spend a lot of time on YouTube, because they totally do, but I think that what we are getting better at is really thinking about the time we spend doing that and seeing it as intentional recreation rather than as a mindless way to pass time. Then, if they’re still looking for other things to do then we make sure to choose things that aren't just time fillers and that's been really positive. I don't think we did a great job of that before we were doing at-home learning.

With that, do you feel like technology will be a vital part of school and learning at home in the future? 

I think it almost becomes imperative. We’re seeing a lot on the news that school may not be completely back to normal in the fall or winter, or even next spring so the way our teachers will communicate with our students will most likely be through technology. This means that even my 10-year-old is going to have to learn a lot sooner than I had planned on how to be a great digital citizen and she will probably be spending a lot more time on a screen than she would have otherwise.

Do you feel that by being about when our children use technology it can be a healthy medium rather than damaging?

Yes! I love the Fred Rogers Center; they have put out a couple of really awesome things about intentional screen time which I think is sort of becoming a recurring theme in our interview here. This situation really gives us the opportunity to think about how we're spending our time in front of a screen. As adults we’re modeling that and then passing it on to our kids.

Because, when we can't go outside of our home a lot of the way we’ll access the world around us will be through screens. That can be super magical—like connections with family, learning something I may not have had the opportunity to learn in a regular course at school, or something I may not have had time for before now becomes accessible to me. That's really cool! So, I don't think screen time in itself is a negative. It's how we use our time in front of the screen that makes it positive or negative.

Have you found any methods of keeping your children engaged while they're doing online school work?

So, I don't think there is any magic solution, but I think it's about human connection. Having a real person that you’re accountable to is good pedagogy; we’ve known that forever. John Hattie’s research tells us that having a connection with a great teacher is one of the things that makes a difference, and I don’t think that changes because you’re connecting virtually. 

Something else that’s helpful is presenting things that are relevant and interesting to the student, not just have-to-learns. Again, nothing earth-shattering there. That's something we've known for a while—when it matters to kids they stay engaged.

And then there are the things that we've known we should do for a long time, like making sure the screen is visible to us while they're working on so we can give them gentle reminders about being on task, because even the most engaging teacher will have kids who wander off. 

So you were a teacher before and now you're playing the role of educator in the home. How has it been for you combining these roles along with all of the other things you’re doing?

Well, it's hard. I have my suspicions about anybody who tells you otherwise. You can love it, which I do by the way. I love having the opportunity to teach my kids, but it is also really really hard and technology is moving so quickly that there are things my kids want to know that I don't have the resources to teach them. That's probably the most frustrating thing to me. I have a dual degree in K-8 education and K-12 special education. I have a master's degree in curriculum and instructional design and an MBA, so I thought that I had anything they wanted to learn covered. Oh no, they want to learn things that I don’t have access to! 

The hardest thing about keeping them engaged is that I have to go seek outside resources that I trust to keep them working on the things that they want to work on. Then you add the day-to-day frustration of being a parent with all us being cooped up in the house and dealing with sharing devices. I think that’s the same everywhere. 

As a tech industry leader, you have developed great habits and a healthy relationship with technology in your family. What advice would you give to parents that are a little bit more hesitant to involve technology more fully in their home?

I would just say, you’re right to be cautious and you shouldn't ignore that feeling, but like so many things we’re afraid of as parents, usually some knowledge helps us move forward. As I mentioned before, one of the things in our house is your screen always has to be visible to us. So, no hiding out in your bedroom with your computer or your device.

If you feel like you need to establish certain rules to make yourself comfortable with technology, then you can be transparent with your kids about why you feel that way. For example you could tell your kids, “It’s not that I don't trust you, but I don't trust the people around you.” That transparency can go a long way because kids recognize when adults respect them and are being honest.

The other thing I would say is that if you don't know or understand technology, you can take some courses yourself. Get knowledgeable enough that you can speak with your kids comfortably. That doesn't mean you have to know the ones and zeros, but you can understand what they're saying when they tell you about something. 

There are lots of people like me out there who would be happy to talk with you about technology  and there are plenty of other resources out there. The internet can be scary and tech can be scary, but it can also be wonderful and it’s worth learning about and connecting to. 

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