(Over)Reactions

The Tuesday meeting of the Breaking Ranks committee was dedicated to reacting to “Growing Up Online“. Our initial task was to discuss our visceral reactions to the program, which, quite predictably were a mix of fright, concern, confusion, and dismay.

As parents, many of us were concerned for the safety of our children. They are existing in an environment that not only can we not fully control, but few us completely understand. How can you not be concerned after watching the story of poor Ryan Patrick Halligan, bullied, teased, and ridiculed until his only retreat was to take his own life? How can you not be concerned after watching Sara find encouragement and guidance to further her eating disorder, not to help her overcome it?

As teachers we experienced many of the same reactions. There is concern for the safety of our students, we want them to be safe online and off. But we were also concerned for their social and educational well being. We see their reliance on instant gratification and multitasking as a lack of focus. We see their reliance on Facebook, IM’s and texting as a retreat from face to face socialization. What perhaps we don’t see is why these “technologies” are attractive to students, and most of us definitely don’t see how it fits into our classrooms.

Clearly these are not the same students we were teaching 15, 10, 0r even 5 years ago. Something has changed. Technology has changed. Students have changed. Have we changed? Should we change?

The discussion in our workshop quickly changed from our fears about technology and fear for our children to a discussion of how the technology can impact learning. Several teachers felt that technology threatened basic literacy skills. This a common concern among teachers. But, in fact, 21st Century Learning standards call for a return basic skills, and a focus on literacy.

After much discussion we came to the point that often we are afraid or wary of new technologies simply because we do not understand them. Calculators were cited as a prime example. For years math and science teachers were against the use of calculators in the classroom. But as we have come to understand them and they have become more robust, they are now a required part of the educational environment. The statement was made that the in reality the calculators have allowed teachers to teach better. The children still need to know their math basics, but the calculators allow teachers to display the math in a variety of ways that were not possible before. Teachers can teach better and students can learn better with calculators.

If this is true of calculators perhaps it is true of cell phones, iPods, texting, social networking (Facebook, MySpace), and other technologies. Maybe we just don’t understand the technologies yet? Maybe we can’t see the connections like the students do? One thing is clear, technology innovations are not slowing down, they are speeding up. If we get too far behind will we ever catch up?

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~ by breakingranks on February 4, 2008.

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