Exiting a fitness class recently, the instructor mentioned her upcoming plans post college graduation. Fellow class members hoped she would be sticking around, however she replied, “I’m taking time away. Probably to go somewhere like South America, spend some time traveling and being in the mountains.” Ah, we thought, good choice, travel and explore while you can. Then she continued the thought and announced pretty emphatically, “I need a break, in particular I need a digital detox.”
The instructor was 21-years old, a digital native, a social media natural, a college student who had experienced digital and face-to-face elements of her higher education experience. And she was aware that she needed the mountains of South America to recover from . . . what? College? That’s understandable, it’s intense. From the online aspects of college? Perhaps. From the overarching digital reliance on, or demands of, being a cyber student and cyber citizen in 2018? Or was it recovering from growing up in the 21st century? I know that statement is slight hyperbole but it’s worth musing about. The instructor understood hard work to attain her diploma goal, and she also expressed understanding of the need for balance, recovery, and restoration after hitting work hard. Many of us don’t have or have lost that understanding.
To those of us born in the still middle range of the 20th century, it often seems recovery and restoration were more naturally integrated into growing up. Family, home, chores, school, homework, dinner, and then your mother sent you outside until dark to play with the neighbor kids. And she locked the doors so that she could clean the house. Then Atari arrived. With great anticipation, we installed and hooked it up to our black and white TV. Breathlessly, my brother and I grabbed the controls, and we played Pong. For 10 minutes. Then we went back outside to jump in the creek, play tag or football with the neighbors, or just sit around on the porch giggling with the kids next door.
Apologies for the trip into nostalgia, but it’s worth the reflection to mine the changes that have, or have not, occurred. Thinking of college, for many students, like the fitness instructor, college is intense. Many colleges had age-old practices that encouraged communing; some of those practices have been transformed in modern day. The original practices had not been deliberately and specially crafted by the administration to convince students that this was a good thing. They were a part of what members of a college community naturally had done for decades: talked face to face to each other in the presence of curriculum and a professor, in the presence of a big or small classroom of peers, in the presence of food, natural beauty, or a cup of tea. My college had an old tradition that I at first thought was tragically stuffy: afternoon tea and evening coffee in each dorm living room. I was from the midwest, the college was in New England, and this seemed pretentious. Then I went to “tea.” Everybody went, scarfed a Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie, enjoyed a cup of tea, read the Boston Globe, sat and chatted. It was a midweek exhale, and I never missed it. A classmate’s daughter attends the same college in 2018. She’s a go-getter like we all were. She reports that “tea” is long gone, “students became too busy and have internships, so the college ended it years ago.” Ugh. She also complained to her mother, “Mom, I really like the school, but it’s not fun like you describe it as fun in the 1980’s . . .” Maybe true, maybe not. But it’s worth wondering about how digital learning and communication and being together in the virtual world impacts, even diminishes, any built-in structures (weekly “tea”) for balance, recovery, and restoration. How is family dinner impacted when a family member tends to their cell phone? It’s worth wondering about how our increase in using the digital and virtual worlds impacts or diminishes a cultural value and natural pressure to tend to such things as balance, recovery, and restoration.
The graduate needed a digital detox.
Regarding technology use and schooling, I am a bigger supporter of digital learning than I was when I first entered this class. I now know more. And as I think about increasing tech integration into learning, we also have to integrate digital-use health and etiquette: no-tech days at school; emphasis of and actual use of structures that tend to balance, recovery, and restoration; education on what technology addiction looks like. Elementary students now identify when they emotionally are in the green, yellow, or dreaded red zones, hence they can also learn how to identify those zones related to digital dizziness or overuse. The examples from South Korean schools shown in Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier illustrate some basic collective methods for elementary students to engage in etiquette. And for older students, identifying levels of addiction and appropriate responses to digital overuse will be important. In Digital Nation, Sheryl Turkel and other researchers report on tech overuse and multi-tasking. In some early research, multi-taskers often have worse analytic reasoning. Turkel warns that overuse and multi-tasking are “creating people unable to think well and clearly.” She continues, “there are important things you cannot think about unless it’s still, and you’re only thinking about one thing at a time.” These concepts need to be taught experientially to students throughout their school careers, so that students understand them as real and internalize them in practice. With technology and digital tools, balance, recovery, and restoration need to be taught and experienced by students.
So let’s go all out with integrating beneficial digital learning tools, trust our educator selves to judge useful ones versus duds and to judge the balance between digital and face-to-face. And let’s concurrently teach digital-use health and etiquette. This way we fret less up front about judging how much is too much tech integration since it’s impossible to understand totally this still new horizon. We also increase our rate of trial and error with digital tools, more quickly integrating the good ones, discarding those that are not. We increase our ability to find the balance and to develop our educator judgment.
In terms of what has changed and insights I have on technology integration in schooling, many ideas and questions have come together. The question of technology in schools has been too “big” for me to feel it could be tackled in a coherent manner. The course and readings have de-mystified it in many ways, and thus put me more at ease as an educational leader. In many ways it reaffirms the core: that it’s about learning and matching the best learning tools. The tools of today must acknowledge how students today learn, which includes through and in the virtual world and with digital media. My own professional experiences have been at low tech or moderate tech schools. I have not experienced a school or district with aggressive technology goals or usage. One district was stuck even knowing how to talk about it, as one move (i.e. going 1:1 or BYOD) was going to disrupt the organizational architecture, something not tolerated in the district’s school cultures. Another district is slowly adding teacher tools around the edges, Google classroom, online math and literacy programs as supplements. Teachers are picking them up at their own pace with a low level of mandate from above.
The goals of this course as well as its curated reading list have given me the mental schema and background to put tech in its place, so to speak. First, technology use is a core competency that must be taught PK-12. Second, technology is a tool for learning, not the learning itself. Guided by the SAMR or TPACK frameworks, schools and districts would benefit from articulating their 5-10 year plan for integration. Any plan that length would be revised as new information and advancement occurred, but organizations need plans that articulate the overarching goals, vision, benchmarks, and success indicators. The U.S. Office of Educational Technology plan for teacher preparation sheds light on the importance of the rising and existing teaching corps possessing sufficient skills in tech integration. This document sheds light on the wider issue for the teaching profession – teachers needing to have their own schema for matching learning tools to today’s learners. Teachers need to know and understand the vocabulary of 21st century learning tools: student-centered learning, personalized learning, and adaptive learning, blended learning. The pressure to keep up with what can appear an endless list of new methods is overwhelming. It does not have to be. Teachers need the vision and expectations set, then they need the micro-lessons on personalization and tech integration, opportunities for collaboration, experimentation and risk-taking so that they can integrate new methods into their practice now. They also need time to reflect on how their practice promotes core 21st century competencies, but also balance and restoration.
Ongoing question: What are model schools at all levels that have a tech-competent staff, coordinated curriculum that integrates digital tools, and a level of personalization that is clear and beneficial for all students?
Dretzin, R., Rushkoff, D. (Writers), & Dretzin, R. (Director). (2010). Digital nation [Television series episode]. Dretzin, R., Rushkoff, D. (Executive Producers), Frontline. Boston, MA: PBS/WGBH.
The United States, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2016, December). Advancing educational technology in teacher preparation: Policy brief. Retrieved October 21, 2018, from https://tech.ed.gov/U.S. Office of Ed Tech.