Archive for February, 2015

Licensed to Type

At GRACE, we have a diverse ensemble of desktops and laptops at our disposal. Most users are working in the world of Apple, using 13 inch MacBook Pros, 11 inch MacBook Airs, and a few odd-ball devices here and there. Oh, and dare I (Dana) forget to mention those that are trapped in the world of all things Windows?

For most engaged in the IT realm, I think we automatically focus on the power tools. We, or at least I, think of the full computer with the full OS and the dedicated hardware as being the tool of choice. Yet, one has to admit that not every tool is appropriate for every staff or student. As you wouldn’t think about setting a toddler being the steering wheel of a moving vehicle, I think it is premature to try to put a 15 inch MacBook Pro in front of a 3rd grader.

Enter Chromebooks. Our 3rd grade students have had the opportunity to learn responsibility. They have to assemble themselves in an orderly fashion to retrieve and return the Chromebooks. They must use them in a respectful manner in the classroom. They must follow the teacher’s instructions at all times. They must also demonstrate proper typing technique. Not only is it a great introduction for our 3rd graders, it is also prep for the 4th grade, where they have even greater responsibility and access to a more powerful laptop.

As an educator, I cannot simply plop any device in front of a student and expect a good result if the student has not been properly instructed first. Our 3rd graders won’t be creating flyers, powerpoint presentations, editing video, or making a newsletter, however, they are at least licensed to type. We’ll worry about all the other licenses later.

What the Heck is Digital Citizenship?

One of the things that we are striving to teach our students is digital citizenship. We feel that it is important to teach our students more than just how to use the technology. To be honest, they can learn most of the “how to” on their own. But we need to guide them in the best way to use the technology responsibly, ethically, and safely. I (Diane) call these the ‘soft’ skills of using technology and it’s much broader than just internet safety or following copyright rules.

Some of it is very simple such as teaching them how to compose a proper email complete with salutation and signing your proper name rather than ‘pink girl’. But digital citizenship also includes getting our students to think about the ramifications of posting silly or inappropriate pictures online. It’s learning about your digital footprint and reputation.

One of the resources that we use is Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org). They are dedicated to educating kids, families and schools.I feel that Common Sense Media has a good approach to digital citizenship because they cover a broad range of things that comprise digital citizenship. Best of all, they provide a full curriculum and resources for teachers to be able to teach students from kindergarten to high school. They define eight categories that comprise digital citizenship:

  • Internet Safety
  • Privacy & Security
  • Relationships & Communication
  • Cyberbullying
  • Digital Footprint & Reputation
  • Self-image & Identity
  • Information Literacy
  • Creative Credit & Copyright

As adults we marvel at how adept our students are in using technology. At younger and younger ages, they know how to navigate the internet and communicate online better than their parents or many other adults. Because of this we tend to step back and let them use these tools with little instruction. But as I work more and more with our students, I realize that as adults, we need to be involved with them and help them to become good digital citizens by using technology responsibly, ethically, and safely. We need to help them to look at what they are doing and how they are doing it and evaluate if there are better ways to handle things. We need to teach them common sense about technology use.

This is not a one time thing. It’s an on going process and we need to discuss and focus on different things as they get older. For example, younger children need help in understanding how to use cell phones and text responsibly. We teach them that if they would not say something face to face to a person then they should not be texting it to them or anyone else. However for our high school students, we need to focus more on their digital footprint and reputation. We don’t want them posting things that could affect their college or career opportunities.

At school, we are constantly looking for opportunities to teach and reinforce digital citizenship with our students. But parents need to also be involved. They say that raising a child “takes a village.” Raising a good digital citizen that can use technology responsibly, ethically, and safely also takes a virtual village of people to guide them.

Look for my future blog post: what can parents do to help raise good digital citizens?

Response: Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain

I (Laura) read this fascinating and troubling article a week and a half ago: Why the Modern World is Bad For Your Brain. It presents some fairly convincing evidence against our 21st century technological lifestyle. As someone who makes a living helping people use technology, it was a sobering read. I think that what I do is useful and good, but I also think that Levitin presents something substantial for all of us to consider (and especially those of us who are clearly pro-technology).

Levitin makes many good points: we are not as good at multitasking as we think we are; the expectation to answer emails, phone calls, and texts NOW is incredibly stressful and new in human history; the vast amount of information we encounter require us to make so many decisions about where to put our attention and time we burn huge amounts of mental energy.

Honestly, I agree with all of these things. As I grow better at observing myself and students, I see the huge toll that multitasking plays on our productively and the quality of our creating. I feel the pressure of NOW daily and feel how it distracts me from deep attention. I am not usually as aware of the constant decisions I need to make to keep my attention on one task, but it does make sense to me.

So, that said, do I think we should give up technology? Definitely not. I do not think any of his reasons require us to live without technology; they simply require us to live with technology wisely. Like most things in life, we do a much better job if we are aware of the possible pitfalls awaiting us so we can plan to avoid them. In many ways, using technology these days is a bit like any relationship: it can bring many, many good things to your life or it can make you miserable. The difference? Well, it can’t be boiled down to one thing exactly, but it does have something to do with how much you think about your relationship instead of just being in it. The best relationships (including marriages) I know have two people in them that are intentional–they don’t just let their relationship happen to them; they make their own relationship. I think we need to do a similar thing with technology: we can either let it just happen to us, or we can be thoughtful about how we use it (and don’t let us just use us).

Much of this thoughtfulness comes down to self-made rules (or parent-made with a child or teenager): I will not check email before 8am. I will only check my email three times a day. I will turn off my phone when I am with other people. Dinners in our household will be technology-free. I will keep my phone in the other room when I am working. I will focus on my writing/reading/researching/etc. for 45 minutes and then I will get a break to just surf the internet or watch TV. I will use a service like Evernote to gather articles to read without all the sidebars and distracting ads.

This. is. hard. Levitin talks about the hits of pleasure our brains get from novelty and the social connection technology can bring, even if it was a shallow and distracting interruption. So if we are going to enforce these rules for ourselves or our children, we need to be aware that we are fighting short-term pleasure to increase our long-term pleasure.

But isn’t life about that? Don’t we tell our students that good things take time and effort–they don’t just fall in your lap? So much of what makes us and our students successful is that ability to delay gratification, and technology is giving us a great way to teach that.

Finally, one last point: technology has brought us wonderful things too. A personal example: this past week, I was in London. I (amazingly) got to talk with my little girl through Skype while I was gone. This is so awesome, I can’t believe it’s possible sometimes. Oh wait…I get to call you across the ocean and talk to you in real time?

There are similar situations in education all the time. Oh wait…we can do Global Read Aloud and read and discuss a book with other students around the world? Oh wait…we can post our student website online and it gets viewed by people in India? Oh wait…students can make amazing videos explaining physics principles with just the few ounces of computer in their hands? This is amazing! The things technology allows us to do are are truly changing education, and I don’t say that lightly.

As schools, as teachers, as the technology people, let’s be wise and teach our students to be wise, but let’s not throw out the beauty and wonder of technology just because it requires us to be intentional.