Category Archives: Technological World

Technological Determinism VS Social Determinism in Education

Greg Williams, Creative Commons

I work in education, an area that is slow to roll with the times of change. Technology has become ubiquitous in the lives of our students, as youth continue to embrace mobile technologies. Yet, there are many educators who just want to shut the door on technology, claiming that it is too much of a distraction. Common are the complaints about texting at inappropriate times, teen compulsion to stay connected 24/7, and the disruptive nature of incoming calls and texts… and the complainants are absolutely right. It is disruptive. There is no disputing that. But we need to ask, “why is technology disruptive?”

 

The shorter answer has its beginnings in big businesses’ quest for ultimate productivity carried over from the turn of this century when it was thought that multi-tasking meant more work would always get done. The longer and more pertinent answer to the question at hand is that technology is not being used for its greatest benefits because adults haven’t been around to guide youth in setting boundaries and defining good purpose for use. We’ve left youth out on a limb to discover possibly the most life-altering evolution of their lives all on their own. This, at a time when McLuhan’s description of technology being extensions of the self has never had more resonance.

 

Technological determinism does not happen in isolation. Human beings have the opportunity to mold technology just as much as technology has to mold us. Teachers need to help set the parameters for use by embracing technology, teaching good purpose, and modeling appropriate use both academically and socially.

Groundhog Day

 

My head is spinning this morning as I think about how to keep course work organized, relevant, accessible, organized and engaging for my students. I’ve tried numerous platforms out there from free online web 2.0 apps to sponsored education sites and apps. As I migrate my material to different platforms and sites, I feel my frustration mounting. Betas are dropped, apps are modified or commercialized and I’m left scrambling looking for the next best “fit”. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Groundhog Day.

I started using Ning last year because students love social networking. They enjoyed being able to comment on each other’s work and posts. They spent a good deal of time making their own page individualized and personalized by choosing their own page formats, colour schemes; adding videos, photos, and audio of their work. The live chat feature came in handy when I was absent in Boston. I was able to converse in real time with students as they worked on the tasks and video tutorials I had left on the site. I even linked to my Google Docs and calendar. Then Ning commercialized their site and I was lucky enough this year to get a sponsorship from Pearson for a “mini-plan”. Now I can’t create groups, post videos or music, students can no longer use their Facebook account to access the site, and I have to approve every single blog they write. I don’t have 500 dollars from my budget to open this back up to the capabilities that come with a full membership. So I started checking out other sites but then ran into the same sort of problems as these sites worked to monetize their services. It seems like there are roadblocks wherever I go.

I use Google Groups for some of my personal learning networks and for collaboration. Unfortunately, Google is taking out the page and file capabilities this January. I stumbled upon the Google Notebook, which allows for the placement of notes in a linear fashion but also uses labels as cloud tags for those who prefer being hyperlinked. It also linked in with Google Docs and Presentations, but Google took away the sharing capability of Google Notebook and has stopped support for the project.

There’s got to be a working formula some where for education.

(photo courtesy of EIC, Wikimedia Commons)

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

The Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory / Stock Photos

The story out of Vancouver this week about visuals of the gang rape of a teen-aged girl being passed around Facebook and cell phones was so horrifyingly sad. The speed of transfer of information can seriously amplify situations when teens are not taught digital rights and responsibilities. We have to remember that it’s not the technology that’s the problem, it’s the use of the technology. The user’s values dictate the way a medium is used. This is why we need adults to be present in teen social space as guides. We can do this partly through the implementation of a mandatory digital citizenship and literacy course in all our schools. Teens need adults who are available to them and can be trusted to act on their behalf.

I do not advocate for complete invasion of teen social space, but we need to have a presence. This is a very delicate balance since teens need some of their own private space to practice socializing within youth circles and for finding their identities. If they feel adults are encroaching too far into this territory, they will look for alternate spaces to keep adults out. That’s what made texting among youth popular in the first place.

The lack of empathy and humanity these youth showed is heart-breaking. The keen interest and voyeurism displayed over such a violent act -alarming. We have to ask ourselves what society will look like in the future if we fail to find the delicate balance of adult presence in teens’ online and linked worlds.

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.