Sunday, May 1, 2016

How Technology Can Keep Kids From Learning

Technology can change education, and it can change the world. These statements are true in positive ways if we recognize the problems brought to the learning environment when we add more glowing boxes.

technology learning digital safety

Let's face the facts. We don't know what so much screen time will do to our kids in the long run. In the short term, excessive time staring into the back-lit stream of information is detrimental. Screens at school. Screens at home. Where should kids catch a break. My answer is simple: everywhere.

I'm not suggesting that technology that connects our kids to their peers and the world is bad. In fact, I love digital technology and believe that it can do so much more for education than paper. Think of this post as a reminder that too much of anything can be dangerous.

Bottom line: In our excitement to meet kids where they are – how they learn outside of school – we need to safeguard their health. It's our job.

1. Social Media

Twitter. Facebook. Snapchat. Whatever it is that kids prefer. These platforms can be powerful when used to connect people – the right people. Social media can also be a huge distraction if limits are not placed on young users.

The potential that a notification might release dopamine, or other feel-good brain chemistry, is enough to keep kids from becoming immersed in their academic studies. Never mind the vibrations and random tones that directly take the senses away from a lesson, one that the teacher has potentially spent more time creating and re-crafting than actually teaching.

Use social media for instruction. We use Twitter for current events, this day in history, and showcasing work that makes us proud – we may connect with a class working on similar content. This isn't going to totally solve the problem, but it models academic use of social media. It just may contribute to our kids making more responsible choices and routines in the future.

2. File and Software Management

Managing files on several different devices can be stressful for many people. Contrary to some of the stuff we read on Twitter, most kids are not fluent in digital settings. Texting all day doesn't make them experts on all technology, obviously.

This is the worst consequence of BYOD programs. It's great for all of the intentions and benefits of BYOD. But it is hard on students and teachers when a room has 15 different devices and file management requires just as many explanations. Factor in the 20 questions that kids ask about any type of activity or expectation, and the stress increases.

I've taught in no-tech, BYOD, and 1:1 settings. The 1:1 setting was the easiest in terms of solving tech problems because we were able to complete tasks with one set of instructions. More importantly, students were more likely to help their peers routinely because they understood the problems without asking too many questions.

Remember, classrooms are already a high-stress environment. They don't need added stress not related to learning content or applying skills. It will never be perfect, but we don't need to make it worse.   

3. "I can just Google it."

Curriculum is often focused on essential questions. The transferable nature of essential questions makes it easier for learners to build meaning. These questions are not Googleable (that's a word) and therefore powerful for deeper learning. It's the questions that can be researched immediately and with ease that we need to be weary of.

Outside of the classroom, kids look up answers to their questions. They use Wikipedia, YouTube, and other sites. Why should it be any different in the classroom? And don't talk bad about Wikipedia until you actually know how it works, specifically (most people don't).

The fact of the matter is that the ease and immediacy that goes along with looking up facts and accessing them right away is taking away a certain amount of contemplation and longevity from the learning experience. 

There's nothing wrong with Googling basic questions if educators find other ways to create the conditions that's lost when the facts are at our fingertips.    

4. No Teacher Left Behind

One of my biggest concerns is the teacher who is not prepared to manage the technology that kids bring into her class. Some teachers deal with this in different ways. A popular strategy is to require students to place their phones in shoe holders on the way in. You know, the kind that hang on a closet door? Although I would never do this with my students, these teachers are not armed with a better solution. I can't knock it.

Let's be honest. Kids do not use their devices responsibly. On my best days, kids aren't drawn to their phones because the lesson is engaging enough. On the bad days, I use a variety of strategies to cope with the distraction. The best strategies are the ones that employ the phones, tablets, and laptops.

My student learning goal for next year is to increase the choices students have for homework assignments, presentation formats, and organizational tools (i.e., notebook versus Google Docs). The foundation for this goal will come from the cooperative learning activities and opportunities to collaborate with peers.

What about the teachers who aren't connected educators? Who aren't computer using educators? What are we doing about the teachers who are only armed with rules that manage behavior? How are we training educators to come up with better ideas to provoke thought and stimulate creativity?

For specific strategies, check out this post on managing cellphones.

5. The Distraction

This is the problem most teachers are most concerned about. How do we compete with the exciting content that kids could be enjoying online? How can writing paragraphs that respond to an essential question about biological systems ever be as engaging as texting gossip among friends?

The answer is not perfect, but it's basic. Build relationships. Many kids will stay on task and engage because they believe in themselves and the person asking them to do it.  

A blog post can't solve all of the problems that come with using technology in classrooms. But I will ask that problems like screen time, lack of contemplation for basic questions, and the distraction of "micro-fame" every time a notification lights up the blue-light laden screen be addressed for the education of our youth.

Glowing boxes are not going away. That's why it's important to safeguard our children by arming them with best practices and understanding about the risks and benefits.

Thanks for reading.