Smartphones and tablets appear in the classroom news almost daily, but seldom in a positive context. Cyberbullying, sexting, binge gaming, social media addiction – the focus is too often on the downside of modern technologies. The most intuitive response is to stir clear from all that, just to be on the safe side, thus inevitably making it “a boring side”. We say “prevention”, but what we often mean is “total ban”. Well, an ostrich attitude has never led to anything good.
KEEPING UP WITH THE TIMES
I understand that with new apps popping up every day, teachers, no matter how tech-savvy, often are the last to know what is going on in the smartphones of their students. We are not as interested and engaged, as they are, not as eager to discover something new. It takes all the running we can do, to keep in the same place. Even if we show a genuine interest, kids will try to hide things, doing all they can to distance from the “uncool adults”. However, it does not mean that we should give up or leave it all to parents. Avoiding technology in our classroom, we will only widen the gap and make it worse. For our students, we will be not merely outdated, but as good as extinct. For the sake of communication and understanding, we must show them that we do populate digital terrain – just as they do. I do not mean fraternizing and joining every social medium there is, but actively using technology as an educational tool. There are several other reasons to do that.
To begin with, I believe that embracing technology with all its challenges is the only way to teach in the 21st century. After all, connectivity and smart devices are not just a passing fad. They are, in fact, a crucial part of the world, where your students live now and where they are going to function as adults. As a teacher, I always thought it was my responsibility to prepare my students for every aspect of life, teaching them as many skills, as possible. No matter what subject we teach, there are tasks we all have in common. We develop their imagination, we help our students to socialize, we teach them problem-solving, promote their initiative, foster critical thinking, tolerance, and respect for others. Thus, you teach your students things that will make them capable to take their place in society and be successful in the current environment. Digital media is an every-growing part of that environment. You will not ignore the sea, if you live on its shores – you will teach the young how to swim, sail, fish, and recognize the signs of the bad weather. Likewise, we cannot ignore digital technology, living in the world with smart houses and robotic assistants.
Further, I must say I do not see technology merely as a necessary evil. I see the possibilities it offers. It facilitates class management and optimizes classroom routines. It bridges the achievement gap, making it easy to tailor an individualized curriculum for every student, depending on his or her strengths. It makes inclusive education possible by accommodating special needs students. The last, but not the least, it is unrivaled in terms of engagement and gamification. Learning is inherently entwined with the play activities. Therefore, I believe, educational games belong at the core of learning. Unfortunately, many teachers perceive them as something merely ornamental, good only for filling the breaks.
There is, undoubtedly, the flipside of the coin. I know it firsthand because I always encouraged my students to use their devices to look for information, develop projects, etc. in my classroom. Of course, there will always be someone, who is distracted and tries to distract others. The thing is, when you ban the smartphones, they will exchange paper notes or whisper to each other across the room, creating even more distraction than by texting. Instead of preventing them from communicating with each other, I tried to engage the class in such a way they would not have time for idle chitchat. As for the graver dangers, such as cyberbullying, the prevention is similar to that of the traditional woes. Teaching children respect for themselves and for others will never hurt. The Golden Rule applies to digital as well.
Moreover, there are ways parents can monitor their kids via iCloud tracking, or plain and simply by accessing and inspecting their smartphones physically. Cyberbullying is pervasive, but it also stays there, documented, unlike the usual taunting. Maybe it is an idealistic view, but I trust that fostering open discussion with your students is always more beneficial than banning the problem. I encourage all my colleagues not to shy away from technology. Don’t ban the smartphones – ban boredom from your classroom instead. FYI, technology is a wonderful tool to do it.