(Turn and face the strange)”
Being in a space where students are engaged, excited and motivated to learn is one of the true joys of teaching. What’s not so joyous is feeling as if you are losing the battle to every distraction the online world provides. Mitigating this balance is challenging. I have found that with a few changes to my practice I have managed to work towards a climate where digital tools are valued for their power to effect change and not as an expensive, attention-sapping device.
The attention economy is real and as a parent and educator I’ve inserted myself as a voice in a world that is much different than the one I grew up in. I could have claimed technological apathy or banned all devices from my home and classroom; however, I’ve always understood the evolution of technology as a benefit to society.
As Peter Diamandis shares in his book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, “All over the world, we’re seeing access to food, clean water, education and healthcare improve; as a result, global innovation is rising as well.” By harnessing the power of technology we are able to see innovation in important areas such as health care, sustainable development, and education. These benefits can only outweigh the negatives when thoughtful, considerate individuals critically examine the use of these tools. Therefore, these tools can be developed in a way that are aligned with humanity’s best interests.
By becoming frustrated with the many applications designed to hijack our attention and waste our time we are missing out on the opportunity to engage in a critical dialogue about the benefits of future digital tools in the education sector and beyond. If educators remove their voices from the development of educational technologies, we risk losing the voices that are most concerned with childhood development and pedagogy.
One shift I’ve made in my practice to mitigate distraction is to model opportunities for students to see the numerous benefits of using technology as a tool to benefit humanity. An example is my “Twitter Litter” story. As an introduction to guided inquiry, I share with students the story of a community walk I took where the trash in a local bus shelter was overwhelming. I took a picture and tweeted the Region of Durham and Durham Transit that a trash receptacle would be a helpful solution to the problem. Within a week there was a trash receptacle at the site and the trash was cleaned up. While this was not an Earth-shattering change by any means, sharing my story gave students insight into the power of social media and how it can influence change in their local community and beyond.
…see the value of technology as a tool for action instead of distraction.
Students have an opportunity like never before to be active change agents in their world. Through valuing their use of technology as a social networking tool we can engage students in activities that help them see the power they carry in their pockets. By following hashtags, connecting with social activists online, and using their social media accounts to engage in constructive dialogue, students are able to feel engaged with powerful movements globally and also engage in or start movements locally. This engagement on its own is powerful, but the real value comes from action. By modeling the opportunities to use technology to engage with important issues and develop action plans for issues they are passionate about, students see the value of technology as a tool for action instead of distraction.
Another way I try to establish a positive digital culture is by providing students with a model of self-regulation. We balance the time spent using technology and explicitly talk about the need to actively monitor this. We address controlling push notifications, the purpose of particular applications to attract their attention, and the need to take control of their digital time. We also work to create a climate where students are using technological tools for rigorous, engaging activities. If technology is reserved for activities that are designed to hijack their attention then students develop an unhealthy mindset towards the tools. This is one of the biggest challenges of being an educator in the 21st century, but helping students to self-regulate their use of technology at school can have a major impact on how their relationship with technology develops.
Our students are living in one of the greatest times to be alive! By creating a climate where we model and promote the use of technology as a tool for action, innovation and self-regulation skills we value the reality of their world while also establishing healthy boundaries. It’s important we don’t give in to the many digital distractions as our students need us to guide them along the path of digital literacy now more than ever!
Here are some resources to help carry on these conversations in your classroom.
Thanks for reading!