I often hear limits put on technology for educational purposes. For example, "students can't create a report on a phone," "students don't comprehend what they read when they read it on a device," "laptops are a better choice for education than tablets." "iPads shouldn't be used for consumption." All these naysayers forget one thing- times are changing and everyone is different. I've watched my 18 year old type an entire paper on her smartphone and then open it up on another device to tweak it. When I asked "why?" her response was "I can text faster than I can type." The path of learning is always changing and our current students are growing up in an age where technology has been and will be the way they continue to choose to learn. We should never want to limit a student in their desire to learn and we shouldn't limit how they choose to use that technology if it aids their learning.
The U.S. Department of Education has a big push right now through the Office of Educational Technology to get our students "Future Ready." Their futures will be technology rich. The Internet will no longer be something you check a few times a day, current students will always have the opportunity to be living in a 24/7 connected world. As wearable technology keeps evolving, the price point will keep decreasing, and technology will become less optional. So how do we, as educators, prepare our students for that type of life?
I see schools integrating technology into the curriculum to give students good usage skills. I see with that, students viewing technology as more than just a place to play games or access social media. I see schools believing in and teaching good digital citizenship lessons. I also believe there are some things we aren't doing that we need to take more seriously. Below is a list of things I think we need to constantly address with our students and children:
- Technology is disruptive. When students stay signed into their social media and allow notifications to "contact" them on their devices, they are asking for trouble. When your technology is calling out to you all day long while you are in the classroom, it becomes very hard to ignore it. Even if you don't check your technology, your thought processes change from whatever you were learning to wondering what it is you are missing- concentration is broken, attention span is shortened, learning becomes fragmented. Students should do themselves, their grades, their educator, and their parents a favor and disconnect from the personal uses of technology and use their device as an educational tool while at school. I suggest that everyone try it for a short amount of time (not hours- week/weeks) and see if they don't feel more connected to their learning.
- Switch-tasking is a thief. People have been multi-tasking for years- TV on, radio on, in a noisy area- trying to study. Some people can do it, but most people don't do it well. The problem is that those same "most people" think multi-tasking doesn't affect them. One of my favorite ways to show people the harm switch-tasking has on their concentration is to follow the steps in this video: http://youtu.be/BCeGKxz3Q8Q. We tend to realize switch-tasking affects us but this video gives us a more concrete way to see just how much it steals from our thought processing. In today's world, it is almost habit to check our phones regularly. Being intentional about not switch-tasking has to be a conscientious act. We should be "testing" our students to see what switch-tasking does to them so that they can learn how they best learn.
- Limiting yourself is not bad. We are a gluttonous society. We want all that we can have and then we want an extra helping. Students are the same way about technology. By teaching students the disadvantages of disruptive technology and switch-tasking, we also can help them to see that they can set self-imposed sanctions regarding how much technology they use a day. There are time-tracking apps out there to start analyzing just how much time you are surrendering to technology. There are apps and software that parents (or students themselves) can put on their devices to not only see where their students are spending their time but also limit accessibility time all together. We, as educators, have a responsibility to help the student that struggles with overuse and potential addiction problems. We should be watching and meeting, analyzing and encouraging students to see what their kryptonite is regarding technology usage. We should be offering ideas to help them avoid pitfalls. We should be suggesting accountability partners for those that struggle. We should be telling parents about ways to limit device usage (see Curbi Parental Controls for iOS), other than just the plain old every day discipline of taking a device away or sitting beside a student while they use technology (by the way, these two things are the best way to be proactive with our children).
- Unplugging has advantages. We know that not all lessons are better with use of technology. We all know that face to face dialogue where you can read body language, nuances, and tone makes for more understandable communication. We not only know that technology has limits but we know that a beautiful day should beckon us to come explore, that the TV should be shut off, that video games should be ignored, and that the people in our lives should be invested in face to face. We have a responsibility to force kids to see the world beyond their devices because sometimes demanding is what it takes. I'm not talking about "I don't want you using technology in my classroom, period." I'm talking about, "today we are not using devices because this lesson calls for something different." By taking those moments, we teach our children the benefit of talking to friends without those distractions in their social life as well. We teach them that "phones away at the supper table" isn't because their parents are mean, but because their parents want to know them. We teach them that certain conversations, topics, and people are best addressed without a device and there is value in learning that.
- Relevance is relevant. Deep, huh? But how often have you been having a conversation with someone and they are also doing something on their phone and you realize they haven't been listening at all? I'm guilty of being that person, especially with my own children sadly, but I know what it feels like to be the one being ignored. Teaching our students to "be in the moment" is a critical life skill. Technology has caused rudeness. We have a responsibility in teaching our students when phone checking is appropriate and when it isn't. We also have the responsibility to teach them, by example (talking to myself here), to be all in when communicating face to face.
- Bad tech choices will bite back. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the elementary students I teach now will have their digital footprint traced deeply when looking for jobs when they get out of college. I think there will be footprint tracing companies that other companies will call when they are looking at a candidate for a job and they will look at the posts on social media, photos on the web, comments by googling a name, etc to give those companies an idea of what type of person their candidate is. These tracing companies will give them ideas on their character, work ethic, and stability based on things posted in their past. I believe this will happen because it is already happening on a smaller scale with many employers doing their own searches now. Someone will monopolize on this "need" and it will just be one more step in the process of being hired. What we know about the ease of tracing a digital footprint is only going to get more precise. We must prepare our students for this world.
As a technology integrationist, I see the benefits of technology in the classroom daily but I also see things we need to be doing better. Improving my teaching in these areas improves my students for their future. I owe it to my students to share these things with them as I see patterns developing. Educational technology integration is always morphing and new things enter our realm constantly. We must always adapt, react, accept, challenge, and weigh to best meet the needs of our students academic success.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.