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I am in a meeting where we’ve been presenting a lot of information about 21st Century Skills and our commitment to them – critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity…We’ve also been discussing our technology initiatives. Towards the end of the meeting, a question is posed:
“It sounds like a lot of 21st Century Skills are not technology related, they are interpersonal; yet, you are considering going 1:1. Aren’t these two goals in contradiction to one another?”
Okay, I get it! I do. The old-school notion that technology is holing us up and creating anti-social beings. I get it. I just completely disagree.
Let me give a very simple and yet relevant example. Two years ago, we began allowing cell phones on campus. I felt it was important to recognize that our students have these fantastic devices that we can harness for learning and connection, so rather than banning them, we’ve embraced them.
Originally, my proposal was not approved. However, as we sat lamenting the fact that students were hiding in bathrooms to use their phones, I used that as an example of why we really needed to allow devices – we can’t teach digital citizenship to each individual in the bathroom stalls. Technology is here, it is fantastic, and we need to harness its power and teach our students how to use it responsibly.
We have now allowed students to use their devices freely during break and lunch for the last two years. We re-wrote our AUP to reflect our Mission and it reads that in the classroom, teachers decide how and when to use technology. Some teachers have embraced it. Others collect the devices so that they don’t become a distraction. Still others merge both these options depending on the activity.
At break and lunch, the devices have actually brought students closer together rather than creating separate and disconnected beings. Some examples:
- Two girls sit with one phone and an earphone in each ear, sharing their music likes
- A group of students play “Heads Up” with one phone, and suddenly, high school lunch looks more like a fun, playtime recess
- Students can call their parents freely and re-schedule their afternoons to attend school events or meet with their teachers to extend their learning
- Students rush around giggling and showing one another different things on their phones
- Students do homework, research, etc.
All of this happens and more. But mostly, students don’t need to be on their devices because there’s nothing to rebel against. They are allowed to use them. They can pull them out at will to check the time, e-mails, and messages. So mostly, when they are at lunch, they are interacting with their peers.
What about the classroom then, some may ask. Aren’t the devices distracting? Aren’t they disengaging students from classroom instruction?
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Remember the 80’s? When we used to pass notes in school? Aren’t text messages just the latest note-passing tool?
Students will respond to engaging instruction. They will disengage when not interested. This occurs in any age, be it the device age or the paper-pencil age.
From our end in the office, allowing cell phones has created more connection among students and teachers, it has dramatically decreased discipline incidents, thereby freeing up administrator time to focus on learning, and it has decreased our incidents of cyber-bullying, perhaps because we are spending more time talking about responsible use.
I realize I am not highlighting a classroom example in this post, but it is one example of the positive power of devices. I can continue on and on…and I will, but not in this blog post. So in closing, I ask you:
How does technology enhance learning and connection in your school?
What happens in your classroom that is a positive side effect of technology as the tool?
How does technology serve to increase our competencies in 21st Century Skills?