It’s no surprise that I am a huge fan of technology. I’m on twitter, I’ve got this blog, I have a blended classroom, and so on. I am literally a child of technology: I wasn’t exactly the most popular girl in middle school. (For some reason, people don’t really care for nerdy, obnoxiously smart and snarky young women. Hmm.) So I turned to this new-fangled internet thing and wow! There were losers like me on there! We could be losers together! And so began some of my life-long friendships; people that I have never met in person but I have known longer than any ‘real life’ friend I spend time with. Suffice to say, I am a little biased towards the good that technology can do for people. Don’t get me wrong, there is an incredibly unpleasant downside (online bullying, #gamergate, doxxing, etc.) but the internet is also a wealth of amazing information, opinions, and ideas that can revolutionize what we do in our lives. The internet helped me through the worst parts of my social development when I was utterly shut down to the rest of the world around me. It taught me how to build my own computer. It continues to help me with developing my expertise as a teacher.
I also feel that technology in the educational world is a very divisive issue. I am struggling with this in my own school. We recently went 1:1 with laptops and I am loving it. There are challenges, to be sure, but I have the skills and tenacity to overcome them. I have my room set up in fashion that encourages communication (both face-to-face and online) and where I can freely move about the room. I understand that my students, for the most part, have used technology as an entertainment device for most of their life and not as an educational device. In this 21st century skills world (or as I like to call it, the world), I consider it a part of my job to teach students to use technology appropriately. And like with any other new skill, they aren’t very good at it. I have to correct my students a lot. But I have to correct my sophomores less than the freshmen, the juniors less than the sophomores, and I pretty much let my seniors make their own decisions because: holy smokes, they’re almost full-fledged adults who need to know how to make the right decision without my hovering. I also understand that there are teachers who struggle with all of these things, and I can be a leader to show them how to manage behavior in a digital world. [Edited to add: After I originally wrote this post, I spent a portion of my day helping another teacher who is, in her own words, ‘terrible with technology but needs to learn about it’. I was happy to spend the 15 minutes it took to walk her through how to set up stuff on planbook.com. I like helping others have a good experience – I practice what I preach.]
But then there are things that outright irritate me, and this cartoon is one of them. I saw this posted on my twitter feed a few weeks ago, and it made me think.
The irony of that cartoon, of course, is that it was shared on a social media platform. It probably wasn’t shared from a beach, but it was very possibly shared from a phone or tablet (considering that 80% of twitter’s users use a mobile device to access it). The people depicted in the cartoon are kids and teenagers, even though 90% of American adults have a cellphone, 58% have a smartphone, and approximately 50% or higher use their phone for entertainment purposes. For some reason, even though the vast majority of Americans have access to technology, using it frequently is considered something for ‘kids these days.’ The perception of people – especially young people – using their cellphones to do something besides make an actual phone call is widely negative. I often hear things like ‘lazy’ ‘only motivated by games’ ‘can’t function without technology’ or ‘why don’t they read a book?’
Here’s the reason this cartoon really bothered me: if I were a person, sitting on the beach, reading a traditional book, no one would make a comic about that. If I was reading a book on my beloved kindle, that’s probably not comic-worthy either. But being on the beach, reading a book on my phone? That’s worth making a comic about; the tragedy of being unable to function without my smartphone. And while we’re at it, why is reading books considered a more worthy pastime than playing a game, or watching tv? I think we should judge media by the story that it tells and the thoughts it provokes, rather than the platform by which it is consumed. It would be pretty difficult to explain to me how 50 Shades of Grey is superior to Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of story and pro-social ideas, even though 50 Shades of Grey was originally a book (and Guardians of the Galaxy a comic – possibly the only art form more widely derided than video games).
Although this issue is more pronounced at my school due to our heavily veteran staff, I expect other schools are experiencing the same push and pull of technology in the classroom. That’s normal; it’s how progress is made. But by depicting mobile tech users as clueless and crippled by their need to have their phone at all times, we’re doing our students a disservice. Like it or not, this is the world they – and we – live in. We need to put away the prejudices and meet the challenge with an open mind. That doesn’t mean using tech for tech’s sake, but rather using it in a directed and meaningful way. What can you do to show your students how to use their technological powers for good and not evil? How can you encourage your students to make good tech choices?