Category Archives: Teens and Texting

Is it the death of texting?

A former media instructor of mine, who has since become my online friend in all things media, sent me an article from the U.K. called, “The Death of Texting”, asking what my students would think about it (thanks Neil!). The Online Mail article claims that the slowing growth of the number of texts signals an end to texting. I’m not an analytics specialist by any means, but I’m pretty sure it’s common for trends to stagnate at some point without it meaning the death knell is about to ring.

While it’s true that more and more people may opt for the texting services that are on their data plans rather than messaging by SMS, I don’t forsee an “end” to the craft of texting. I also don’t see video chat “replacing” texting, as the author claims. While the technology or platform may change, the communication itself doesn’t necessarily change. Instead, we end up with an expanded repertoire of tools.

Texting is popular because of its anytime, anyplace nature. As long as teenagers continue to stay in touch with friends in their every waking moment, whatever technology that helps them with this is surely going to survive. In an interview with Microsoft researcher, danah boyd, she explained to me that teens use technology to help them find their place and identity as their social circles continuously shift through their development.

The teenaged students I interviewed about Facebook and texting gave me some pretty good insight into the popularity of texting as a medium of choice, saying it’s great because it’s intimate while requiring short spurts of commitment, and participants don’t have to worry about how they look. Students talked about carrying on multiple conversations and the enjoyment of no one else knowing who or how many other people they were conversing with at the same time. Not only do they benefit from feeling connected, but they also reinforce or move higher in social status.

Although I didn’t talk to students about video chat, there’s a whole different dynamic going on in a visual conversation. You can’t talk to multiple people at the same time without the other person knowing about it, and body language and voice expression come back into play. The time commitment and attention required for such a task continues to keep this form of communication limited.

The question of “user friction” also comes to mind. Friction is generated by the number of steps it takes to follow through in using the technology, as well as the commitment required on the part of the user. In online commerce it’s been found that customers feel most comfortable with about 3 steps in making online purchases. This friction is generated through the desire of ease of use against the peace of mind required when it comes to making secure transactions. Not enough steps will cause a customer to question the security of the transaction, while too many steps make the customer feel like online shopping is an arduous task. In communication with close friends, we want to be one-step away. Texting is a one-step process. Straight from your contacts, you can compose and send a message. It’s an easy way of maintaining close friendships.

In Facebook, the “Like” button is what I would call a half-step process. It only requires hitting the button of something you’re already on anyway. The time commitment and attention required is minimal, maybe even too minimal. It’s a perfectly easy way of signalling that you’re aware and somewhat interested in your friend’s or acquaintance’s life. These tiny bouts of commitment are part of relationship maintenance.

Video chat is a multi-step process. You need to make sure you look okay, you need to make sure you are in a suitable location, and then, you have to make sure the other person is available at the same time, under the same conditions. These steps come before the ones you have to take in operating the communications device. Going through all the steps of a video chat signals a serious investment in the relationship and will likely be reserved for such.

(moved over from July 1, 2011 Blogger post)

Cellphones in the Classroom: A Response

I’ve been hearing a lot of negativity around using cell phones in the classroom. I thought it time to respond to some of the statements I commonly hear:

“I think cell phones don’t belong in the classroom. They are a major distraction and are not worth the trouble they can cause. How can you regulate a student’s personal cell phone? How can you keep them from texting each other and help them to remain on task? What do you do about students who don’t have cell phones? How will they participate? What happens to their self esteem when they don’t have a cell phone to pull out with the rest of the class? What about the students with really nice phones? How do you keep them from getting stolen? I could go on and on… cell phones in the classroom are not a good idea.”

Here’s my response:

We can’t forget that cellphones are powerful mobile mini-computers. There is a period of normalization that occurs with any new technology. We need to guide students through digital citizenship and appropriate use. We also need to get to the point in which students are self-regulating, which means some initial guiding and regulation on our part as teachers working with students. I guess what we have to ask ourselves is “do we want to pretend we don’t know students are texting behind our backs anyway” or do we want to be open and find an opportunity to teach them appropriate use and guide them towards self-regulation by helping them manage their attention?

Try putting students in groups when not all your students have cell phones. You’ll find the “haves” are willing to share with the “have-nots” during this time as many have data plans (though you should never insist on sharing and I can bet it would be a very rare case that someone objects anyway). This way everyone gets an opportunity for deeper learning, instead of no one. Working in groups of 3 or 4 is great. If you’re worried about the self-esteem of the ones who don’t have phones, it’s not like they don’t already know who the “have” and “have-nots” are. I remember back in high school when many of the girls around me were wearing designer clothes and I was wearing regular clothes. It’s a life lesson they’ve already learned.

I’ve actually never had a cell phone stolen in class before. When they’re out in the open, it’s pretty obvious which phone belongs to whom and kids rarely let them out of their sights. Though yes, it is a potential problem and you would need to share those risks with your students.

Right now students are texting with their phones because it’s a great tool in their social world, as they look for ways to keep adults out of a space while they work to find their identities. They engage in shifting social circles as they try to establish long-lasting friendships like the ones we now have in adulthood. I have spoken with students who feel pressured by their friends to text back immediately upon receipt. They get into a dangerous cycle of compulsion that is full of internal interruptions and social pressure. This is very different from how adults use texting. We can take our time getting back to people without feeling quite the same stress. As teachers we can try to get rid of the external interruptions in their environment but they will find ways around it. Controlling their external environment by banning cell phones does nothing to quell the internal interruptions that take place in the head, repeatedly popping up and reminding them to “take a look at that screen” and check where they stand in each other’s friends’ lists. In order to help kids control their compulsion, we need to teach them how to become autonomous.

We need to teach kids how to become self-regulators and how to engage in appropriate social etiquette. This can happen through allowing use at appropriate times during class, guided by helping them manage the type of attention required of the task at hand. We do this through adult guidance, attention cuing, mentorship, and teaching digital citizenship. You can’t teach these when you ignore what they’re doing anyway and your risk putting yourself outside of their world.

I produced a 37-minute documentary on this topic for my Masters. I interviewed David Buckingham, author and Director of the London Knowledge Learning Lab; Danah Boyd, author, Berkeley fellow and researcher for Microsoft and Harvard; Linda Stone, retired Executive from Apple and Microsoft; Dr. David Meyer, Psychology professor at the University of Michigan; and Neil Andersen, author, media consultant, and speaker with the Association for Media Literacy. I also interviewed teachers and school administrators, parents, and most of all..teens. You can view some of the clips from my documentary at www.janemitchinson.ca

Questions from Teens on Texting

Great discussion is being generated in class with all the media buzz around cell phones in the classroom. I took the opportunity to discuss texting with one of my grade 11 classes, asking students to think about the fears around teens and texting and to frame questions around those fears. Here’s what we discussed:

“Is texting really making us become more anti-social?”

Texting is actually quite social. In fact it’s hyper-social. Teens are connecting with each other around the clock and staying more connected to each other than ever. Adults worry when teens go off to their rooms and text because face-to-face interaction with them drops off. Adults equate your physical absence with anti-social behaviour because they have learned to be social by being physically present. They are worried about being kept outside of your social space. Spend some face-to-face time with your parents every day.

“Won’t we have a harder time communicating face-to-face?”

Just because you are communicating less face-to-face doesn’t mean you’ll forget how to do it. It’s just another form of communication that you can choose from. That means you’ll need to assess the most effective way to get your message across when communicating. For example, teens enjoy using sarcasm with each other. That’s difficult to read in a text. You’re probably already reserving that for face-to-face interaction.

Some teens I interviewed during my documentary said they use texting to help them think about what they want to communicate when responding in a difficult situation, instead of acting impulsively. This can be a benefit in preventing a situation from escalating, however, teens do lose the opportunity to read body language. Sometimes what we say or write isn’t exactly how we feel. Teens need to think ahead about the possible outcomes of using each kind of communication before they engage in a difficult conversation. It’s not much different than before cell phones when teens used notes to express themselves instead of dealing face-to-face. Teens have already been negotiating between written forms of communication and face-to-face.

Another question that came up was “is texting ruining our ability to spell correctly and use proper grammar?” The response will appear in an upcoming post.

Cellphone Use in Classroom topic on a roll

I rushed to the CTV studios right after school yesterday and did the taping for Province Wide. I was 15 minutes late after getting out of the building and then finding on my drive that Wellington Street was closed. I was a little frazzled but managed to shake it.

Daiene asked me what I thought about banning cell phone use in schools and I explained I felt it was sad that some boards that ban the devices are missing out on opportunities to teach students about appropriate use. We chatted about parents who don’t know how to set boundaries as role models for students and how students need to work through their compulsion so they don’t end up like the generation before them. What a great opportunity for education to guide them through this. By the way, Daiene’s cell phone went off during the taping and we had to re-start a question. Her daughter needed a ride home and I had probably kept her later since I came in a little late. It really wasn’t her fault, but it was still pretty funny.

After supper, my husband showed me a news post on the Internet that Premiere Dalton McGuinty had been asked by Toronto reporters what he thought about cell phones in the classroom. The Toronto Board had just announced it had decided to review its cell phone policy. I immediately thought, “Yeah Neil!” Neil Andersen, who appears in my documentary is a retired media consultant for the Toronto Board of Ed. I was so glad that people were starting to talk about the issue. It’s been a long time coming.

This morning I was surprised to see a negative backlash to what McGuinty had said. All he had said was that schools need to help students find appropriate use for ell phones in the classroom and that we need to consider a place for them. That’s exactly what I had been saying Tuesday morning. I guess the fear-mongers ran with that one and attacked him for not considering the distraction of cell phones in the class. It’s strange how people can twist things out of proportion because bringing them in to class is what we needed to do in order to deal with the compulsion to be on call. I wish people could see my documentary so they could understand the issued a lot better.

Before lunch, I got another call from the office that the CBC had been trying to get a hold of me again. CBC’s radio syndicate requested 11 interviews for between 3 and 6 PM. I’m so glad I got up early this morning to write down some of the counter talk I could expect from people. It came in handy on the circuit. Some interviews went easily with talk show hosts that were open to the issues, but a couple went much tougher with the announced out in Halifax calling himself a curmudgeon and David Gray calling me crazy. I think David was just upset because I caught him on one of his own points. He said that teens shouldn’t have cell phones in the classroom to use as tools because it’s unfair to the ones who don’t have them. I said it was an easy fix and that I had never had a problem with it. Students work in groups and the ones that have them are quite happy to share. He asked me if I really thought it was okay to ask the kids who have cell phones be asked to share with the ones who don’t. I explained again that the haves are quite willing to share with the have-nots if you ask them, it’s not a requirement. The haves don’t mind sharing their phones while working in groups and don’t see it as a big deal. It’s all in how you use them in class and that’s something the teacher can set up with the students; is how and when to use them. David asked “isn’t that drawing a line between the haves and the have-nots? Shouldn’t we level the playing field?” I said, “Are you saying that students should miss out on deeper opportunities for learning just to level the playing field when teachers can create equal learning opportunities through putting students into groups? He quickly changed the question.

There’s several more points I made through 3 hours of talks. The battle with David Gray really stuck out because he challenged me. I have taped some of the interviews and will go over them to accumulate some of the issues that were raised and post them later. I also want to write about the questions my students had for me today. We had a great discussion on the fears that people have around texting. I could tell they had been sitting around the supper table talking with their parents about it. Great questions included: “is texting making us become more anti-social?” and “is texting ruining our ability to spell correctly and use proper grammar?” I will save these discussions for the next post as this one is getting quite long.

Booked for Interview with CBC’s Metro Morning

Finally, the re-edits of my documentary on teens and texting are done. I have just burned the project to Blu-ray and will hand it in to Ryerson tomorrow.

This project has really got me thinking about how we can address the issues of cell phone use in schools. We need to start talking about it and come up with some solutions. I’m going to be interviewed on CBC’s Metro Morning Tuesday about my doc and plan to talk about the compulsion that students feel to text using their phones and all the social pressures that surround that. I haven’t received the questions for the interview yet, but during my pre-interview I talked a lot about self-regulation to fight compulsion so I’m hoping that will be the focus.