Technology. Where does it fit in schools? Where does it fit in our lives? How do we deal with the wide array of technology skills, aptitudes and interests, among our students, and maybe more importantly, our teachers?
Is there a student in Ontario, between the ages of 14-19 who does not have access to some sort of device? It is rhetorical, I know, because obviously there are, but if you are like me, and you work in a school where the majority of kids do have access to some form of technology, it is very all encompassing in their lives. They are never without it. They use it to entertain, to communicate, to research, to double check, to take photos, videos and produce lots of stuff. My own daughter is not averse to sending me a text during the school day. My eldest child, who is now in University, routinely texts me during the day, including when she is in class. My protestations are laughed away. Apparently, it is not an issue at all in the “adult” learning environment.
I attend principal meetings once a month, where the best and brightest minds at ADSB gather. There is not one person in that room who is not without some form of external communication the entire time…laptop and increasingly now, smart phones. In my mind, the quality of learning is not at all affected by this reality, and perhaps it is even greater. We have access to the powerpoints on our computers, as policy is discussed and settled on, we get instant emails. We can quietly ask an SO or colleague a question via email, text or instant messaging, and have our queries answered in a shorter time frame, without disturbing the rest of the group.
And you know, everyone who has a smart phone in their hand, or a laptop on their desk, is not necessarily using those devices for only work time, 100% of the time. Some probably do. Some probably do “other” work when there are topics that are not related to them personally, as can often happen in a JK-12 administrative forum. All of this has evolved as the devices evolve and the way in which we structure our lives has changed with it.
However, I pose the following question to you: How different are we than the kids in our classes in front of us? If an answer is that we are more mature and will use our devices more responsibly, I agree. However, we came through the time when there was no instant access. We have had to adapt the way we look at the world. For our kids, they know nothing else. I can remember getting pretty steady dial up internet access in an around the 1998 mark. My youngest child was born in 1999 and has never lived in a world without internet. For our kids, to be disconnected is as foreign to them, as it would have been to us to have our schools tell us that neither books nor writing instruments could be used in education. That is how pervasive technology is in their lives. It is not going away. We cannot stop it in schools without an inordinate amount of energy and hassle, and to what end? To create a school system that does not even closely resemble the real world? Has that not always been the knock against schools from time immemorial? We are out of touch? We are a generation behind? We are teaching kids for the jobs of today, or worse yet, yesterday, while not preparing them for the future?
So, yes, they can be very irresponsible. Yes, I get frustrated when kids have a presentation and you see them sneaking looks at their phones (how many adults do the same?) but I say to you, or I say to the education community, we then need to make this a priority. In order to leverage the power that our kids have in their phones and iPads and tablets, we have to teach them to use them responsibly. They have to know when to turn them off. They have to know when to use them and how. They have to learn how to analyze the information they find on them. They need to learn that they cannot be tools to harass and intimidate others with, or to openly mock others in a hurtful manner.
How many of us can remember that kid in school who was supposed to be reading his science text book, but put it up on his desk, and had a novel or comic book hidden behind it? That kid still exists today, only he has a phone in his hand. Is it any different? No, not to me. Perhaps it speaks to that student’s engagement in the material. Perhaps it speaks to the material itself? Perhaps it speaks to the teacher? However, in my mind it is just a symptom of something else, and instead of the comic book, or the doodling pencil crayon, it is a phone or laptop or tablet….far more powerful, I agree, but then let’s figure out how to leverage that power, instead of trying to shut it off.
We need to teach our kids how to use these things. Parents, myself included, put them in their hands, and walk away. We spend hours and hours teaching our kids so many things: sports, how to swim, how to drive, hobbies, housework, etc, etc, etc, yet we give them a powerful tool and let them retreat to their bedrooms to use them on their own. It is any wonder they do not know how to use them appropriately?
Now, the hard part. How do we do this effectively? How much research is there out there? I would bet very little. So, we have to figure it out ourselves. We have to try things. Change them when they fail, alter them, and…gasp…include the kids. Give them our problem. Tell them that we want them to leverage the power they have, but to do it responsibly and give them the chance to help us determine the best way to do it. How many classrooms have Success Criteria on their walls for paragraphs, problem solving, etc? Lots. How many have SC for using technology in an BYOD environment? I would argue only the progressive ones. I know I do not. I am however thinking about how to answer some of these questions, and I believe engaging students in the answers is crucial, so I will be inviting students to be part of a technology committee that will feature students and staff, which will tackle these items and find something that hopefully is a win-win: appropriate leveraging of the powerful technology with responsible use.
Stay tuned, who knows how it might work out!