Teacher Development

How the Digital Age Is Affecting Students

Five books that give insight into how social media and technology are shaping today’s students and their learning.

September 26, 2018
Professional Development Books
©Edutopia

Teachers don’t have to look far to see how changes in technology and social media are shaping students and influencing classrooms. We watch kids obsess over the latest apps as they chat before class. We marvel at the newest slang edging its way into student essays, and wonder at the ways constant smartphone communication is shaping students’ friendships, bullying, and even study habits.

To understand the internet-savvy students who fill our classrooms and the changing landscape of social media they inhabit, we need more than hot new gadgets or expensive educational software. The book list below is a starting point if you’re looking for insight into how the digital age is shaping students and ideas about how you can respond in the classroom.

Each book was chosen for its combination of research, story, and applicability to the classroom. Grab one or two to help you invent new strategies to reach students or reimagine your application of technology in your classroom.

Social Media

If you’ve ever wondered what students are doing with all their time on the internet, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens is for you. Author danah boyd dissects how and why kids rush to the online world. Using student interviews and stories, boyd describes the ways youngsters use social media to connect, escape, and eke out a little privacy away from their parents and teachers. She includes a chapter on how the internet has shaped young people’s understanding of personal and public spaces. Read this book if you want to help students optimize the knowledge and skills they already have as digital natives.

A clinical psychologist and researcher at MIT, Sherry Turkle isn’t against the smartphones our students love so much. But she is worried that the obsession with phones—and the texting and social media posting they enable—is impacting in-person discussion and deep conversation. In her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Turkle claims that students’ communication skills have changed. Her suggestions for taking back in-person conversation in a digital world can shape collaborative classrooms and guide teachers on how to help students improve peer-to-peer interactions.

Social media and the free flow of information have also influenced the language we use every day. In A World Without ‘Whom’: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age, Emmy Favilla lays out a case for language shaped by the internet. This entertaining and informative 2017 book is peppered with pop culture examples ready for use in class, though like all pop culture references they’ll quickly become dated. Favilla’s writing is pragmatic; she offers advice on where to hold the line on traditional language and when readability and appeal to a new generation might be more important. As Favilla puts it, “We’re all just trying to be heard here.” The book is a timely reminder that social-media-fueled language innovation deserves some classroom discussion.

Technology

If you’re eager to understand larger trends affecting young students, pick up Jean Twenge’s iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. Drawing from large data sets and longitudinal studies, Twenge examines everything from SAT scores to rates of loneliness. Her research-heavy book offers helpful hints about the impact of technology and other cultural changes. Read this book if you want to brainstorm about how to adapt classes and school structures to meet student needs. To bring students in on the conversation, consider using Twenge’s easy-to-read graphs as discussion kick-starters or as a way to provide historical context to current trends.

If you want to reimagine the way computers and video games might be used in the classroom, check out David Williamson Shaffer’s book How Computer Games Help Children Learn. A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Shaffer believes that video games can help schools foster creative thinking, problem solving, and strategic decision making. After all, making mistakes and trying out innovative strategies are less risky in a game than in real life. And even reluctant learners will often dive eagerly into video games. A lot has changed since the book’s publication in 2007, but its ideas—about what students can learn from video games, how video games engage students, and what issues to avoid—can guide you toward thoughtful, effective video game use.

Our students are steeped in the internet, social media, and all types of technological innovations, and it’s time for schools and teachers to carefully examine how these things interact with curriculum and learning.