In a week or so where a lot of discussion has been dominated by a certain Sydney Principal telling us all how the best thing he has done at his school is to ban technology and how all this technology is a total waste of money, I think the time is oh so right for a post to stimulate discussion on the issues around use of technology in education. In refraining from providing a link to the said article (even bad publicity is still publicity, eh?!?!) I think it’s plainly obvious where my leanings are especially when I would also like to take this opportunity to applaud @julielinsday for her well-balanced response Clearly, there are many issues to discuss with the use of technology in education and how schools are approaching what Michael Henderson calls a wicked problem. I would like to focus on a particular issue which I believe will resonate with a lot of #enoobs and teachers alike: Technology can be a distraction.
Julie Lyndsay makes the point that “Technology is only a distraction when the associated pedagogy has not evolved to embed digital learning.” She also states her disbelief around the lack of evolution, “Surely we all know and understand today how to manage mobile technologies in the classroom to advantage learning outcomes?” However, sadly, in many cases, I am not sure there are too many schools or teachers who do ‘know and understand’ this and ‘associated pedagogy’, in this area, has not ‘evolved’ anywhere near as much as I am sure Julie would like. I would argue that it is not just ‘pedagogy’ that is at play here, though. School culture and student’s exposure to technology have a huge influence.
Let’s consider this example: If a school has a culture that allows for student freedom in use of technology, for example, access to social media platforms such as Facebook and/or mobile phone use in class, then…
What might happen in terms of distraction that relates to school culture?
A school’s culture encompasses what the school believes in, the rights and wrongs, the rules that are in place to determine appropriate behaviour in that community. Thus, there have to be appropriate elements in place to deal with technology that students are accessing and how they can potentially use it. Yet, having these ‘in place’ involves comprehensive teaching and re-enforcement with students, parents and teachers, i.e. the school community. I met a teacher a couple of years ago from NZ who said his school start the year with a day that students and parents must attend where the whole program sets out the expectancies around Digital Citizenship within their context. Quite often, though, this issue is not given the attention that is required. The result can be a culture where students are not effective at managing their time on social media, do not understand the significance of turning off ‘chat’ if they have to concentrate on something that requires their undivided attention. Some of these elements particularly around engaging students are touched on by Dan Haesler in this post
What might happen in terms of distraction that relates to student’s exposure to technology?
Exposure to technology comes in the home as well as at school and, as every parent knows, there is no denying the effectiveness of the iPad babysitter. That, in itself, has effects on students that are worth exploring but in this example, I would point to the exposure of many young people to social media use at any early age as far more relevant. Many of our students, from a very early age, are an essential ingredient of their parent’s social media channels. This must have an influence on them and their expectancies of a similar rite of passage when they reach the age of digital consent. I would argue, therefore, that primary schools have a greater responsibility to expose students to using technology appropriately for education purposes. If technology is a novelty to students and poor practice around the use of technology, such as using computer games as a treat for finishing work, are the foundations of learning with technology, surely it can be predicted what will happen when they advance through the education system. It is my view that digital education around the use of technology and the expectancies in an education context needs to be proactive at the primary level. Just because student misuse of social media is largely a problem for secondary schools to deal with, does not mean the education around it should not start earlier.
So, let me be clear about all this. Julie Lindsay is right to feel exasperated that there are still educators out there who haven’t moved their practice forwards to embrace online learning experiences but the idea that use of technology can be a distraction to learning is not something to be glossed over. It is something that schools have to address properly and when not addressed, ‘distraction’ becomes an issue very quickly. Banning technology is easy but it is not the way forward, embracing technology is. Yet, education has to realise that with open arms comes hard work.
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