Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do you share my concerns?

I worry about the direction that schools are heading with regard to technology. This summer, at the urging of my school, in order to improve my ability to use the technology that my colleagues and students were using, I completed an on-line course in Web 2.0. I learned about Delicious, Voice Thread, Blogs, Wikis, embedding and linking, and Google Docs, among other new toys. It was really interesting, but I found only a few things that I thought were directly or immediately applicable to my life as a teacher of fourth and fifth grade. As the year progresses, I am finding ways to share those helpful tools with the class, but only after we've spent the early months developing a sense of community and practicing the skills that will make our time on the internet valuable. I worry that in our rush to embrace the new technologies, we'll skimp on the important community building time and the equally important pencil and paper time, book time, blocks corner time, board games time, discussion time, scissors and markers time, read aloud time, drama and movement time. (There, I said it. Now you can jump on me and tell me what a backwards thinking teacher I really am!)

I worry about how long are our children spend in front of a screen. As a teacher and as a mother, I have strong feelings about how much time kids spend using what types of technology. It could seem ironic that I am using technology to write about my concerns about technology, except that I feel fairly confident of my ability to balance my time and use my judgment about what types of sites I visit and what influence they have on me. I have already put in plenty of time with the developmental tools that allow me to use this technology and not be used by it. On the other hand, I know that many children and teens (and adults) do not yet have the self-control to have a computer screen in front of them and maintain focus on their teacher or homework assignment or group project (or job). How many young kids spend less time creating projects out of cardboard scraps and toilet paper tubes or less time building shelters or fairy homes in their backyards because the screen is more compelling to them? How many teens spend less time bicycling or hiking or joining a club or babysitting or building a shed because they are on facebook or absorbed by computer games?

I am the kind of parent who offered cookies on a limited basis while my children were young. As fit and healthy teens, they now have the self control to eat cookies on a limited basis and they can choose wisely from the cupboards, unsupervised. As a teacher, I would like to proceed similarly with screen time. Offer limited access to safe and healthy sites, used with direct teacher supervision at school and direct parental supervision at home, with the clear goal that when it's all available as an unsupervised smorgasbord, it won't be as challenging to maintain balance and self-control.

I worry about the types of on-line activities which can gobble my own children's and my students' time. Are they activities to which the on-line world is uniquely suited and which improves their ability to grow up and interact and problem solve in a world of unique and multifaceted people and ever growing environmental challenges? Or are they learning to lie to get facebook accounts before they're old enough, inappropriately learning about adult products while watching family television on hulu, learning to contain their thoughts to a posting of 140 characters or less, learning to hide their bullying behind layers of on-line gossip or you-tube postings, learning that all emotions should be able to be expressed by a l.o.l, :) or :( or forgetting how to engage in meaningful conversation or correspondence because a facebook status is as deep as it gets?

I'm not anti-computer and I'm not anti-progress. I just want to be thoughtful about all of it. I want the students to experience the opportunities of connecting to people in new and meaningful ways; I don't think there's any hurry, and in fact, in hurry, I think there are major drawbacks. I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Jan - I removed my comment because I responded to this post when I intended to respond to the one that came before it! Silly me. - J

  3. There is definitely something to be said for spending time with a real, physical community - not only the "online community" that has become so popular. There are so many benefits to the online world - the accessibility and immediacy of information is probably the most important one - but I truly believe that face-to-face interaction and learning are essential to our development as self-aware human beings. I love the easiness of going online to do research, but I wouldn't get the full learning experience if I wasn't then able to then discuss it with people. The internet is such a useful tool, but it does not replace human interaction. If we can learn how to use the internet in a productive and effective way, but also emphasize the true value of human relationships and face-to-face interactions, there could be a much more promising future to technology's role in education.