It seems as educators, curriculum developers, stakeholders, parents, or anyone concerned for the future of the upcoming generation we continue to desire a better understanding of how to 1.) keep up with the fast paced technology world teens exist in today and 2.) to compete (or maybe compliment) it in the classroom. With that said, it is always critical to ask ourselves the bigger questions. Why are our students inseperable from their cell phone, twitter, facebook, etc., what is it doing to their cognitive and emotional development, and should we be buying in or balancing out?
In an article published in September’s Educational Leadership journal (Vol 67:1) Marilee Sprenger repeats the beat down mantra regarding teens’ use of technology today. However, Sprenger does not stop there–rather she brings to the surface a thought provoking angle regarding the countless hours spent impulsively jumping between any and all technology based communication mediums available today.
Sprenger begins by referencing a study where “of 2,000 students between the ages of 8 and 18, on average students spend six hours a day connected to some digital communcation device, often to several simultaneously” (Small & Vorgan, 2008). But, she distinguishes her article by not stopping at what we already know. She references Linda Stone, a former Microsoft executive, who has called the attempts to flop back and forth haphazardly between homework, texting, listening to an i-pod, twitter, and other devices, “continuous partial attention.” Still, even more interestingly (than a coined phrase for a phenomenon we may simply name: distracted) Sprenger pushes the why?
She argues that while, “digital natives are motivated by a desire to be busy and in demand” that is not their main objective. Although it may surprise some she points out that, “the main goal behind their multitasking is not so much to be productive as to be connected to someone.” In the field of character education where we have argued the need for students to be cared for and connected, it is ironic that what we may have been tempted to think we were fighting against is actually somewhat in line with the research. Students, even those seemingly disconnected and disengaged because of their dependency on cell phones and laptops–are seeeking the same things we know that they need and can offer in our classrooms: to be connected and needed by someone.
With the why out of the way Sprenger suggests seven strategies for how to ”keep up with your students from a technology point of view” while not ignoring that the motivating factor behind this technology craze points in many ways to a desire to be connected:
1. Provide reflection time: “to reflect a person must use different areas of the brain and give overworked areas of the brain much-needed rest”
2. Disarm them: “encourage students to practice listening to one person at a time”
3. Let them teach: “our students’ digita expertise is an important part of their world…encourage students to teach one another about digital skills”
4. Use interactive white boards: “students can move physically and communicate with one another as they interact with technology”
5. Build emotional literacy: “communicating digitally is an efficient way to exchange data, but when dealing with fellow humans everyone needs to be able to recognize other people’s emtions..to make decisions, cooperate, and even understand themselves…”students who had received training in social-emotional learning, compared with those who hadn’t earned higher grades, scored 14 percent higher on achievement tests, and were less impulsive and better at calming themselves” (Lantieri, 2008).
6. Teach Mindfulness: “provide techniques that encourage mindfulness, a deliberate inner awareness of what one is thinking, feeling, and experiencing”
7. Encourage Storytelling: “storytelling enhances people’s emotional connectedness and understanding of concepts. As we struggle to keep students’ digitally conditioned brains attentive in the classroom, storytelling may be one of our best strategies.”
The overall message seems to be three-fold. Namely, that an it is of prime importance to have an understanding of the extent to which our students are inundating themselves with technology, why it is that they seek this constant connectedness, and how we can find a balance of that in our classrooms that emphasizes the positive aspects and works the skills that become underdeveloped as a result of this cultural craze.
She concludes by saying, “we must recognize that relationships and focused attention are key to learning in this century…if we can help students balance the gifts technology brings with thse human gifts they will have” a complete package.