Tag: policy

Hang Up? Crawfishing (a Little) on BYOD

For years, I have been an avid supporter and advocate of BYOD. Specifically, I have argued that students’ smartphones were powerful, pocket-sized computers with high-speed internet capable of connecting, creating, engaging. They were a fabulous solution to the very significant problems of digital divide. Schools lacking in computers or infrastructure would no longer be shackled by the technologies they lacked–just get out your pocket PCs, kids!

Lately, though, I must admit that I wonder about this idea and really have been questioning the validity of my beliefs. I more and more frequently encounter news stories and blog posts about schools or even entire countries abandoning their phone-friendly policies. Policy makers have decided the competition for students’ attention, the distractions, the discipline problems, the effects on student emotions were all too high of a price to pay for any positives the devices might promise. Surprisingly, their arguments against the devices in the classroom are starting to resonate a lot more with me.

Some experts, such as the folks at Common Sense Media, have determined that teens spend an average of 9 hours per day looking at a digital screen. I will testify that at least seems pretty accurate in my own household, even if I haven’t put a timer to it. Life is intently focused on a screen of some sort the vast majority of waking hours, riding in the car, sitting in their rooms, eating a snack, etc. The majority of the time, my kids, wife, and I are thumbing robotically through Instagram, watching YouTube or Netflix videos, checking Snapchat, or something similar.

I will say that the number and range of topics that my kids are learning about is sometimes really amazing. This is especially true for Reilly, my son, who watches videos on every topic under the sun. Also, I have much appreciation for the way that my kids are able to stay connected to their friends, particularly during the summer, as we live a half hour from most of them. I can completely understand my son’s penchant for gaming, as I enjoy an admittedly smaller variety of games almost as much. We ditched cable and satellite television a few years ago, too, so much of their phone time is a substitute for former television hours. All that to say I recognize there is considerable value, for sure.

On the other hand, though, it is unrealistic to deny that there are significant problems that come along with the devices’ constant presence. One that I think is most significant is the devices’ tendency to become the attention priority of the user. In other words, the user is so distracted by the device that he/she cannot maintain focus on anything or anyone else. Just try to count the number of times in a day when someone checks their phone while having a face-to-face interaction with someone. I’ve sure been guilty of it. Watch families/friends sitting together at restaurants. We see it (maybe take part) constantly–groups become zombies making idle chit-chat while staring at PewDiePie on their new iPhone or Galaxy. A 2018 study by Common Sense Media revealed more than half of teens acknowledged that phones distracted them in negative ways. Additional research by Common Sense shows that not only do a large number of kids check their social media feeds pretty much constantly, the negative outcomes (hateful comments, posts not being “liked” enough, etc.) more profoundly affect the kids already facing social/emotional problems.

For the teacher optimistic enough to try and use them in the classroom, a particular challenge I have heard about endlessly since basically the debut of the iPhone in 2007 is management. Even teachers who are still open-minded or enthusiastic about the possibilities struggle with ensuring that they are being used in purposeful, learning-focused ways. For a teacher who may not be experienced or especially skilled at general classroom management, this becomes an even bigger issue. I know that I and countless colleagues in the edtech world have attempted to share effective management strategies, but the dismal tales persist.

What’s the point to all of this then? Well, I suppose it is that I am probably less convinced of the power of student devices in the classroom than I was a decade ago, when my former superintendent abruptly declared our district to be a BYOD environment. Certainly, there have been some cool moments of real success, from creative student video productions to collaborative documents to engaging formal assessment and feedback apps and many more. I won’t begin to argue against those. I think, though, that more than a decade’s time passing should have ironed out many more of the wrinkles in the plan and the process. It hasn’t, and I still hear more negative feedback than positive (Okay, maybe complainers are just more…expressive.). I am currently running a Twitter survey to gauge my PLN’s feelings on student phones in the classroom and already seeing some interesting results.  My mind is far from made up, and reflection is critical to my own professional practice, so I’m going to keep mulling the pros and cons of this issue for awhile. As always, I would welcome and respect your thoughts and comments!

Letter to a Parent

Not directed at anyone in particular…

Dear Parent,

You are, first of all, the type of caring parent every child needsleaping child and deserves. You want what is best for your son or daughter’s healthy growth and bright and happy future. You wish to protect them from as much of the harmful, ugly badness that permeates so much of the world. Thank you for loving your child so much–such attitudes produce strong, successful students!

Recently, you discovered that your child’s school has the Internet, and even more shocking, you found that anyone could get into YouTube through a simple search. You also quickly tested the site and found that objectionable videos could be accessed by merely typing in the right search term. Justifiably, you are very concerned about this scenario. You wonder how a school can allow such potential harm to befall its students. You even begin to consider what steps might be taken to remove this horrible threat. Should other parents be recruited and organized?

Before you go farther in your commendable zealousness to protect your child, please consider several points in favor of keeping such a frightening site unblocked.

  1. Educational content. YouTube has thousands upon thousands of outstanding educational clips and full-length videos, from such reputable producers as NASA, National Geographic, and the BBC. It is an excellent resource for today’s student to find videos that supplement written materials in their research. Taking this to an even loftier perch, YouTube EDU now offers actual videos of courses being taught at the biggest and best universities on the planet. You’re child can begin learning from Ivy League teachers while in elementary school!
  2. Global connections. YouTube allows users to create personal accounts and channels. A teacher might use such a channel, for instance, to share student videos with a world-wide, authentic audience. A viewer in China might be provoked to leave a comment or ask a question, leading to real dialogue between students on opposite sides of the earth. It happens everyday!
  3. Creativity. YouTube offers students a place to become inspired and motivated to express their own creativity. It also offers a unique and very relevant platform for putting their creativity on display. Creativity, it is fair to say, is a skillset that receives far too little attention in classes today, yet is vital to student success and opportunity beyond the classroom.
  4. Digital wisdom. Filters, vigilant teachers, and monitoring software work wonderfully in our district to create an atmosphere that discourages or even prevents students from getting into “trouble” while using the Internet. These tools are worthless, however, when the student is on his own. At home, at the library, at a friends house…these are the places where research shows a student is far more likely to experience harmful or inappropriate content on the Internet. By teaching responsible use and allowing enough freedom for students to demonstrate integrity while online, schools become partners in bringing up young people who will use the Web safely and respond appropriately when danger appears. Research also has demonstrated the value of such an approach over tightly locking down the Internet filter.

Most of all, please remember that we love and care for your child, too. Our goals are similar to your own, and we wish nothing more than to see your young man or woman grow up happy, healthy, and safely. We also wish for them to be successfully able to cope with the evolving, increasingly digital stream of information and communication that they will be faced with, and we believe being proactively educational is preferred to simply locking the gates to keep the wolves out. Part of being a citizen in this century is knowing how to utilize its vast resources ethically and responsibly, and we wish to be a partner in assuring that.

Sincerely,

Your Child’s School

Enemies to Productivity?

I just finished watching a thought-provoking presentation by Iqbal Quadir. Iqbal asserts that technology, particularly those technologies that have facilitated communication, have been critical to the growth and success of democratic societies and the economic welfare of their citizens. He states,

“If citizens can network and make themselves more organized and productive, so that their voices are heard, so then things would improve.”

Quadir, who grew up in Bangladesh, where the ratio of people to phones was 500 to 1, also states that the telephone is a weapon against poverty, because increasing connectivity results in increased productivity. Phones act like rivers or highways, improving reliability and enabling specialization. Quadir put his ideas into action, leaving a New York banking job to set up a rural cellular network in his home country. The results have had a dramatic impact, increasing productivity, personal welfare, and the country’s GNP.

This presentation struck home with me, as I considered the general view of cellphones in schools today and a new direction being taken by Birdville, my home district. By and large, cellphones are considered to be nuisances, and, if allowed at all, they are only to be used outside of classroom hours or in the case of an emergency. Within the classroom, they are detrimental to the learning process, distracting students from the “important” matters of the curriculum. Here is a typical scenario pulled from last week’s headlines. Through a new, more progressive policy phones are allowed only in high school, and only if out of sight and turned off. Notice this statement: “Last year, 1,253 high school students were cited for violating the cell phone policy.” Clearly, there are serious discipline issues in this school (Sarcasm intended–imagine how much instructional time and effort is used wasted enforcing such policies.).

I’m truly not intending to pick on this particular district, because I do believe it is representative of the typical No phonesAmerican school system. A technology that has the ability to facilitate communication between students, parents, teachers, scientists, researchers, astronauts, doctors, politicians, etc. is viewed as a distraction. A tool that can be used to take photos, record video/audio. and access the Internet is seen as a means for students to cheat (As if it requires a cell phone to accomplish that. Might as well ban paper and pencils, while we’re at it.). Rather than address their use in a forward-thinking, progressive manner, most schools opt for the easy route, which is, of course, to eliminate the “threat.” How sadly ironic it is that in a land where cellphones are moving toward equaling the total population (230 million subscribers by the end of 2006), where the devices are being put into the hands of students of almost all ages (My 2nd grade daughter has classmates who own them.), and in a time when the power they possess surpasses the capabilities of the computers I grew up with, we can’t find a way to leverage them in every classroom.

Imagine applying the same concepts put forth by Quadir in the classroom. Cell phones used to connect students, used to have instant access to information, used to communicate information instantly between teachers, students, parents. Is it not conceivable that the results would mirror those in Bangladesh? Might students become empowered and connected, and their productivity and power actually increase?

Next year will be the first in my own district to put this to the test.  We are starting a new era of cell-phone-friendly schools, as we attempt to take advantage of their capabilities and find new ways of using them in our curriculum. It will be interesting, particularly to see how some reluctant teachers respond to the new policy. Students will have to display responsibility and discipline to make it work, as well. If teachers can adapt, and if students demonstrate as much energy, creativity, and excitement in the actual implementation as they did in our recent student technology summit, the potential impact is quite significant. I will be posting further on this as we move forward with this. I’ll also be digging for more success stories of implementation, so please share if you have any!

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References:

Cell Phone Use Exploding (2007). Retrieved April 23, 2009, from http://china.usc.edu/ShowAverageDay.aspx?articleID=663&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1.

Image credit:

No cell phones!

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Time to Rethink Blocking IM?

clockThe New York Times has an article today describing a research study conducted jointly by Ohio State University and the University of California. The study examined the use of instant messaging and produced some interesting observations, particularly with regards to the time element. In summary, the study determined that IM actually encouraged users to be more “strategic” and concise in their communication. Additionally, IM required less time than phone conversations or email communications. Further, users often utilized IM as a “less intrusive” means of determining whether their colleagues were available than more traditional communication tools.

The traditional route for schools has been to ban IM. It is viewed as a distraction and a time-sucking diversion, rather than a communication tool. Maybe this needs rethinking in an era where teachers’ time demands are higher than ever. So much resistance to revolutionary changes in practice has been attributed to a lack of time for learning new approaches. If IM can squeeze a few spare minutes out of a teacher’s work week, might its use in our schools be worth reconsidering?

Banning Sure Is Easy

EmperorI was reading an article about yet another school district banning yet another social technology this morning, as Hattiesburg has protected its citizens by banning student-teacher communication via text messaging or social networks. No need to bother wasting precious testing-time crafting creative applications of such tools in order to take advantage of their popularity in the curriculum. Just like so many other districts, who have blazed the trail by banning iPods, cell phones, blogs, and other tools of subversion and perversion, steps have been taken to ensure that safety and proper focus are ensured. I know the citizens of Hattiesburg are sleeping easier.

Yet again, I am reminded of how grateful I am to work where I do. I may get a little frustrated with the filter on occasion, but the vision is there, and our students will benefit.

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