“You’re always staring at that darn phone!”
My husband has said this more than once. And it’s true. I’m often staring at my phone. Last week, when he complained about this, I was reading a great book on my Kindle app. I asked him whether he would have complained had I been holding a book in my hands instead of my phone. He thought about it a moment, and then said, “No, probably not.”
I think this exchange with my husband represents one of the biggest misconceptions about technology use– that staring at a screen always equals wasted time or increased disengagement from those around us. Many of the things I do on my phone are the same things I used to do off my phone– reading, checking my calendar, making to-do lists, catching up on news, or keeping up with friends and family. The problem, as my husband explained it to me, is that staring at a device always looks the same, whereas the old-fashioned way of doing things made it more obvious what was being accomplished. I think this perception is one of the biggest hang-ups that teachers have in regards to technology use at school. How can we ever know for sure whether students are using technology productively, or whether they are getting distracted and just wasting time on their devices?
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
There are some valid concerns to be aware of as we integrate technology into our classrooms. A few of these were highlighted in 23 Things About Classroom Laptops, such as keyboard pranks, “screen wagging,” and attempts to circumvent security settings. Kids are easily distracted and tempted by the lure of favorite games and sites. I’ve caught kids switching screens plenty of times; usually because they were showing a friend a video or trying to get in a round on a favorite game. It happens. But is that a reason to avoid using the technology altogether?
Sean recently shared his concerns about fearmongering in the use of educational technology. I think he made some great points about why we can’t let fears of wasted time or excessive screen-time prevent us from making the most of all the ways we can use technology to increase learning. The key is that we find a balance and ensure that if tech is being used, it’s being used effectively. While there is some room for disagreement about what constitutes “effective” or “educational” use, there are ample options for integrating technology in meaningful ways. Successful 1:1 programs, such as that in Maine, have shown that effective use of technology can lead to significant increases in student learning. Many of the fears and concerns about students wasting time on tech can be alleviated with a few simple strategies, such as Facebook and Tech Breaks. A few minutes of free time can go a long way!
As with most things, balance is important when it comes to technology integration. Not everything needs to be done on a screen. It’s still important for students to experience some off screen time for hands-on learning, physical activity, and social interaction. But on-screen learning can also be incredibly meaningful and worthwhile. I loved this article from The Mindful Classroom, which showed how technology can actually help to support mindfulness. The article emphasized that technology use can be very powerful if we use to help our students develop mindfulness of the world around them. They can build empathy and understanding as they are empowered to connect and learn about the world and its people.
Simply having tech in the classroom isn’t going to change the world, but using that technology mindfully, meaningfully, and in ways which enhance and empower student learning– that balance can make all the difference in how we prepare students for the future.